A region built on ‘problem-solvers, fixers and doers’ given opportunities to grow through iSH’s new focus

12th April 2024

Robotics and AI, Advanced Engineering, Manufacturing and a revitalised Leconfield Enterprise Campus are new MD’s top priorities for West Cumbria.

Gary McKeating has a new mission. But it’s built on solid foundations and rooted in a West Cumbria region the new MD of iSH (Industrial Solutions Hub) has long since been a strong and passionate advocate for.

When it comes to the iSH team having a new Managing Director to focus in on key priorities for delivering inclusive economic growth and opportunities for West Cumbria, Gary’s previous roles have given him the experience and connections to deliver.


On a two-year secondment from his post as Head of Community and Development at Sellafield, Gary has previously held positions with AREVA UK, Nuclear Management Partners, Invest in Cumbria, Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster, and Your Housing Group, 


He knows this landscape. He sees the opportunity. He’s full of praise for the team at iSH – and partners across West Cumbria – is confident all the ingredients for success are already in place, and is a firm believer that the primary opportunity already exists right here on the doorstep. 


Just a few days into his new job, Gary has a clear vision about iSH’s role and where the team  need to focus their attention:


“We’re making sure that the outcomes that iSH is delivering for all of our partners, including those in the nuclear industry, and funders in government, are what we’ve said we will deliver. We’re forging a future for West Cumbria of a broader, wider economy.


“We’ve got an anchor institution here (Sellafield Ltd), which is very important for us, in an industry with lots of problems to solve.


“What iSH can achieve is it can galvanise a lot of the brilliant work that already goes on in West Cumbria. We’ve got a lot of fixers here solving problems every day, not only at Sellafield, but in the supply chain as well. 


“iSH can help bring together all of those elements, we can bring in academia to work with them as well, and work with a generation of fixers and doers not only to solve problems at Sellafield, but across West Cumbria.”


There are already foundations, and progress, to build on.


“We’ve got the engineering from Sellafield coming out now beyond the fence. We’ve got the Sellafield Engineering Centre of Excellence at Leconfield so we’ve already got stuff to build on. 


“The Centre of Excellence itself is an absolutely fantastic initiative. We need to build on the work going on there because it is a unique way of approaching problems. 


“What Craig Branney and the team are achieving there is amazing. They’ve taken elements of engineering from behind the fence at Sellafield, made problems more visible and then brought people together to develop solutions. So in effect, they are an absolutely key part of what iSH is all about.


“The six-week Sprint projects that are happening at the Centre of Excellence and the problem solving that’s already going on there are world class. iSH’s role is to amplify all that and to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can as a company to bring a lot of different entities together, ultimately to solve problems.”

Gary, who is from Workington, is determined iSH will deliver for organisations, businesses and the people of West Cumbria, and that means focusing on specific priorities – and doing that work well.


“We are working with Cumberland Council on the development of the Enterprise Campus at Leconfield because what we need to see is things coming out of the ground,” said Gary. “There’s a time imperative on that because you have to demonstrate to the community, to businesses here and to funders that things are happening. I’m a big believer in being able to point at things. 


“The other thing we are focusing on is what we want our centre of expertise and excellence to be. That’s around robotics and AI with our colleagues over at RAICo, and it’s around advanced engineering and manufacturing.


“We are not creating something that we’re going to impose on people. In terms of robotics, we want it to be led by the robotics organisations like RAICo, Sellafield Engineering Centre of Excellence, and the supply chain companies that work in robotics. It’s about bringing them all together and saying, “do we all agree that having a formalised robotics cluster in this region, that is greater than the sum of its parts, is something we all want?


“We want to build on what we have, map and recognise what we have, build it up and make it more visible.  What do we need to grow that cluster? What are we missing? What are the gaps? How can we fill them? And that’s not about iSH filling them, it’s about finding the right partners and the right delivery partners to fill in the gaps to start to build a robotics cluster in West Cumbria that is nationally and internationally recognised.


“It’s about iSH being the facilitator that can bring those organisations together to encourage that collaboration, to encourage that innovation, and help build on that.


“The good thing for us is we are fully supported by funders and stakeholders, so when you look at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Sellafield Ltd and Cumberland Council here, and then national government as well, it really is a heady mix of funders and stakeholders. We’re all aligned in terms of what the outcomes need to be, which is a really healthy cluster of activity around these focus areas first and foremost and then who knows in the future where we go with potential for diversification. But I think we’ve got to make sure that we do a really good job here first on those focus areas.


“When we look at robotics, when we look at advanced engineering, and when we look at manufacturing we’ve got some real talent here.


“Then the even more exciting bit once we start to get that momentum, is how we build the skills for the future. How do we make sure that our local kids have opportunities inside and outside of the nuclear industry with some really, really exciting industries?”


Bringing inward investment into West Cumbria, helping open up opportunities for SMEs, and fostering collaborative working, are also key aims for iSH.


Gary said: “What I am really looking forward to now is getting out and about and working with all of our fantastic local companies trying to draw in inward investment and companies to come and work here with the companies that we already have. 


“SMEs are higher and higher on the agenda. That’s not only the government agenda. It’s actually higher up on major procurers’ agendas too. 


“A lot of the work that we see locally here in West Cumbria is around helping SMEs to be able to talk to other companies and join up and collaborate,


“When you look across the country and when you look across the world, there are companies that we want in West Cumbria, to match up with our local companies.


“There are local companies and companies from afar who can’t do it on their own. What we’re increasingly seeing is real collaboration between companies, such as the Cumbrian  Manufacturing Alliance, where smaller companies that may not have the ability to bid for work on their own join together with other companies. 


“That collaboration could then work in a number of ways, everything from how the company executes the contract, how they can become part of a joint venture, how they can access funding or academic support. So iSH’s role is that glue in the middle of it all.


“We are very mindful of avoiding duplication. We’re already on a reset with other local organisations we work in collaboration with, such as BEC (Building Extraordinary Communities). We’ve got some really great academic institutions including the National College for Nuclear and the Construction Skills Centre, and we’ve got some really brilliant infrastructure in place already here with West Lakes Science Park, the Bus Station, Sellafield Engineering Centre of Excellence, RAICo and when you look at what people are achieving and what is going on in those places, such as the Eagle Labs at the Bus Station, it’s brilliant.”


Gary also wants people to see real change on the ground.


“iSH itself is grounded in Cleator Moor. So what we want is for the people of Cleator Moor to see a change for the better. 


“Leconfield is looking tired. That goes without saying. But the vision of those people who set up iSH still stands – to create a hub in Cleator Moor that benefits the whole community and West Cumbria as a region.”


He’s also keen to explain iSH’s focus on delivery to others so that there are more advocates shouting with one voice for West Cumbria.


“We need to talk up West Cumbria. We need to be positive and really proactive. Because the opportunities that we have here in West Cumbria are actually second to none in terms of longevity of opportunity and in terms of the money spent through that large economic anchor down the road.


“We want people to work with us. So we’ll take them through what we’re doing. We’ll take them through what we want to see as outcomes and where they can play their part.


“In terms of our local area, in terms of business, in terms of Sellafield, we want advocates. We want the supply chain to get their shoulder behind iSH because of the opportunities it represents for businesses, communities and the region as a whole.


“The trick will be to sweat the assets of what we have here first and then, after that, look at how we can diversify into other sectors or into other regions, whether that might be nationally or internationally. 


“What we must do first, however, is to make sure that we’re solving problems here. Let’s do that really well and then build on that.”