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The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr William McCaughey pictured with Graham Whitehurst – MTF Chair (left) and Neil Collins, Wrightbus Managing Director.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor William McCaughey, has welcomed the announcement of over half-a-million pounds of investment towards what he described as a “revolutionary project” in Ballymena.

A new Hydrogen Training Academy, based in Ballymena, is to receive £511,000 from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund. With hydrogen emerging as a leading sustainable energy solution, the first-of-its-kind project for Northern Ireland will enable and develop a dynamic, skilled workforce that can take full advantage of hydrogen and clean tech opportunities.

The Hydrogen Training Academy is one of 31 projects across Northern Ireland set to benefit from a total of £12million CRF funding – all focusing on skills, education, local business and employment.

Led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, the Academy will be driven by a public-private partnership that includes Northern Regional College, Belfast Metropolitan College, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and the University of Birmingham.

A consortium of key industry players also involved already includes Wrightbus, Energia, Translink, Firmus and EPUK with opportunities for other partners to come on-board as the project develops.

Council has already started the development of the academy earlier this year with the formal procurement of a new state-of-the-art training pod to support the practical training through the Hydrogen Training Academy. The training pod is being built by BSH Limited and will be delivered early in 2022.

The Mayor commented: “As all eyes around the world turn to COP26 and the urgent focus on environmental sustainability continues to gather pace, news of this funding really is very timely and very welcome indeed.

“Mid and East Antrim is uniquely placed in Northern Ireland in terms of the key strengths and assets we boast in energy and cleantech that align with zero carbon targets. Through this revolutionary Hydrogen Training Academy, our Borough will continue to build upon its reputation as centre of excellence and the main focal point of the emerging Northern Ireland wide hydrogen economy.

“I commend Council’s Elected Members and officers who, in collaboration with our public and private sector partners, have invested a huge amount of time and effort in bringing the project to this stage. I very much look forward to seeing the plans come to fruition in the coming months and witnessing the longer-term economic impact the Academy will undoubtedly have in the coming years.”

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, explained how the Academy will play a “critical role” in training and upskilling both existing employees and new trainees to a recognised professional competence standard required for the hydrogen sector.

“The Hydrogen Training Academy will deliver a range of crucial entry-level introductory training for industry across a number of sectors, including energy, transport, gas, manufacturing and engineering,” he said.

“This training will be delivered via a combination of online, classroom and practical training with initial focus on two key areas of hydrogen – hydrogen gas basics and safety and hydrogen production.”

According to Mr Whitehurst, an initial pilot phase at the Academy will see 30 participants take part in a ‘Train the Trainer’ course, delivered by academics from the University of Birmingham, who have already successfully delivered their ‘KnowHy Training’ to over 1,000 participants.

Northern Regional College and Belfast Metropolitan College will draw upon the learning from participation on the Train the Trainer Programme to develop and accredit two Level 3 courses for delivery to young people and employees across the hydrogen industry. Similarly, Queen’s University and Ulster University will also collaborate to develop a Level 7 postgraduate certificate in Hydrogen Power and Ulster University will significantly increase its provision on two of its Hydrogen CPD courses.

Mr Whitehurst continued: “This Hydrogen Training Academy has been developed using a unique partnership approach involving Council, Further Education, Higher Education and industry. Their contribution has been, and will remain, critical to the overall success of the project and the future commercialisation of activity for the clean growth sector in Northern Ireland.”