The Sellafield Engineering Centre of Excellence took place on June 17th at the UK’s cutting edge nuclear facility in Cumbria and inspired hundreds of future engineers. 

When eight-year-old Freya Connor looks out of the window of her house she can see the Sellafield site in the distance and wonders what goes on inside. Mum Keira and dad James both work at Sellafield but when Freya asks them what they do they always struggle to explain.

So, when Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence threw open its doors to more than 200 young people for an Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Open Day for Freya it was the ideal opportunity to find out more. Within seconds of walking through the door at the state-of-the-art centre, Freya’s eyes lit up as she spotted robots of all shapes and sizes among a range of technology bays packed with exhibits.

A few minutes later she was smiling from ear to ear after successfully building two blocks by operating a Kuka robot with a Haptic feedback control thanks to a hands-on experience provided by Cumbrian-based remote handling specialists PAR Systems.

“It’s fantastic,” said Freya (pictured left), who was quickly moving on to another area at the centre to code Botley the robot to carry out tasks she programmed it to perform.

Mum Keira said: “We wanted to bring Freya to inspire her, so she could see the type of things which go on at Sellafield and show her that those opportunities are open to girls just as much as boys.

“It’s great to see so many girls here, and so many women volunteering on the stands. The gender gap is definitely closing.”

Maddy Dodgson, brought along by mum Anna and dad Ian, was similarly having fun trying a hands-on challenge shown to her by iSH (Industrial Solutions Hub) Education Liaison Officer Hannah Pears.

“It’s really fun,” said Maddy, also loving meeting all the different robots including Spot the Dog which, with the help of Sellafield’s ROV Equipment Programme Lead Deon Bulman, goes into hazardous areas on Sellafield site so humans don’t have to.

Ethan Fleming (pitured right), aged seven, was captivated by a challenge set by 26-year-old entrepreneur Clyne Albertelli, MD of Co-Lab Engineering, and inventor Ian Stephenson, owner of Technology Consortia Ltd who, working in partnership, have created world-first hydro-electric technology.

Clyne said: “We tend to be very modest in West Cumbria, so events like this are important as they allow us to showcase world-first inventions being developed right here. If that inspires one young person then that’s brilliant.”

Ethan’s mum Lisa works for Atkins in radiation protection. Having recently been to a conference, where a deficit in future skills and knowledge is predicted because so many experts in the field are close to retirement age, she is even more keen to inspire the next generation.

“I want to give Ethan time to find out what interests him and what doesn’t. I think it’s important to start them young, then over time they can also find out what subjects they would do to follow a path that interests them. It’s far better than arriving at your GCSE choices and having to make a quick decision without having had that time.”

Cumberland councillor Michael Eldon, who represents the Cleator Moor ward where Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence is situated, said: “The whole of Cleator Moor is changing and it’s changing for the better. The future is definitely bright.

“Hopefully it will inspire even more businesses to locate here and more people to choose to live and work here, and inspire more young people that they don’t have to leave the area to have exciting careers here.

“I would love to be a young person now with all this going on. I would tell my 12-year-old self to seize every one of these opportunities.”

Design engineer Elliot Routledge (pictured left) and Mechanical Team Leader Raymond Payne, both representing remote handling systems specialists PAR Systems, took part in the event so young people could get hands-on experience of robotics.

“We wanted to show the kids some of the amazing technology and get them involved and excited about it,” said Elliot.

Sellafield engineer Artur Majchrowski, organiser of the event in his role with IET’s West Cumbria group, said: “We hope the young people who have come to the event go away with something which inspired them, whether that’s a toy or an experience, something which stays front of mind when they think about what they want to do in the future.”

Artur highlighted the work of more than 50 volunteers who gave up a day of their weekend to attend the event to inspire young people, and the growing number of SMEs getting involved with the initiative.

“We are growing all the time and that’s thanks to lots of people who share the vision of wh

at we are all trying to achieve here,” he said.

Kevin Rishworth, Sellafield’s Engineering Lead at the Engineering Centre of Excellence, said: “It’s good for Sellafield’s graduates and members of the IET to see that this facility is a great venue for holding events like this.

“We are always growing and bringing in new technologies and equipment to inspire young people about future careers in engineering and maintenance and we look forward to continuing to grow those opportunities.”

Craig Branney, Sellafield’s Head of Off Site Developments, said: “It’s been brilliant to show the young people of West Cumbria all the different aspects of engineering and maintenance at Sellafield and in the supply chain.

“Hopefully it opens the door to them to be inspired and to think about future career opportunities. It’s been a fantastic day. But it’s only the start of what we can do here. There’s plenty more to come!”

This year’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Open Day at Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence took place on June 17. Plans are already taking shape for future events.