Work has started on a £1.5m refurbishment of a leading UK research centre which could play a key role in generating up to £170m of income into the Tees Valley over the next 20 years.
The Materials Processing Institute in Middlesbrough recently landed a £3m Local Growth Fund grant from Tees Valley Unlimited, half of which will be spent on rebuilding and the remaining cash on equipment.
A section of the building, which was originally constructed in 1976, is being redeveloped into a two-floor unit which will house up to 15 SMEs on the first floor, with business services and commercial departments on the ground floor.
When the work is completed in November, the business units will be occupied by SMEs which work hand-in-hand with the Institute, with the long-term plan to help the fledgling firms grow before they move out and are replaced by new SMEs.
CEO Chris McDonald said: “The building is coming up to 40 years old now and is in need of an upgrade.
“We have got a long track record of being at the forefront of technological development, and this work enables us to provide world leading facilities to match that.
“We expect that the majority of the new tenants will be technology based, and ones which can get the benefits of what we do as an organisation.
“It makes sense to have everyone on our campus for logistical and development purposes.
“We have a lot of plans in place, of which this building work is one of, which could generate up to £170m over the next 20 years into the local economy, based on firms coming through the campus, growing, and then moving on, so it is something we are very excited about.”
The Institute, which was first founded almost 70 years ago, evolved to become the research and development arm, firstly of British Steel and more recently Tata Steel, before returning to its independent status in November of last year.
It is the UK’s longest-established centre for industrial materials research and has opened its doors to companies outside of the steel sector, to make use of its top class research and development facilities.
The main reception area and staff facilities, including disabled access, will also be upgraded as part of the project while conference facilities will be made available to organisations for events.
Dr Gerard Stephens, director of SME Technology at MPI, said: “We are delighted that this work has now started. When it is completed, the infrastructure will be in place for us to be an open access innovative centre for materials processing.
“We identified three key areas following consultation with various SMEs in our planning. They were technical support, business support and finance support and this refurbishment allows us to provide all of those.”
The work is being led by Tyneside-based Meldrum Construction, with workers expected to be on site for the next 16 weeks.
Meldrum site manager Stephen Payne added: “We officially started on July 15, and fully expect to be completed by early November.
“Refurbishments of this nature always throw up some unknown challenges along the line, but we have everything in place to start making progress.”
• Pictured (above): Chris Parson, Turner Townsend Project Management, Chris McDonald, Materials Processing Institute and Stephen Payne, Meldrum Construction.