Councillors and business bosses have welcomed the news that a £610,000 textile training centre intended to help boost Hawick’s economic fortunes will open within the next few months.
The centre of excellence in textiles will open early next year as part of a bid to address a skills deficit said by employers there to be holding them back.
It is being set up by a partnership made up of Scottish Borders Council, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International, the Department for Work and Pensions and textile and knitwear manufacturing businesses.
The project, awarded £610,000 by the Scottish Government via the south of Scotland economic partnership in July, will see the centre housed in a former mill building in Hawick, though which one has yet to be revealed.
It will be managed by Alistair Young, formerly operations manager at the town’s old Peter Scott factory in Buccleuch Street, closed in 2016 with the loss of 50-plus jobs.
Training will be provided for the town’s current textiles and knitwear workforce and also their future colleagues aged 16 to 19 via foundation and modern apprenticeships.
Scottish Government rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “I am delighted that we are able to fund this development through the south of Scotland economic partnership.
“The south of Scotland is renowned for the quality of its textiles industries, and it is important that we invest in that excellence for the future.
“The centre will bring real and long-term benefits to the area, developing the talent needed to support the industry’s future success and enabling people to pursue careers in this important sector.”
His delight is shared by councillors and textiles bosses in the town.
David Hamilton, operations director for Johnstons of Elgin’s Hawick mill, said: “This is a fantastic project that supports the local textiles and knitwear sector and addresses a challenge that many of us have faced for a number of years.
“This is a sector that is growing in the Scottish Borders, thanks to the high-quality products that are made here and the reputations that have been built over many years by our brands, and the training and recruitment of young people is vital to ensuring that we can continue to thrive and grow.
“The Borders, and particularly Hawick, is known the world over for the quality of textiles and knitwear workmanship, and this project has the potential to make the area a leader also in the training and development of the sector’s workforce, which could attract more businesses to relocate here.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall said: “As of yet, there are no clues as to where the centre of excellence will be housed, but we are not short of derelict factories within our town, and I for one will be delighted if we can turn one of these long-standing and troublesome eyesores into something special.
“It really is an exciting time for our town in terms of it being chosen as the location for such an investment.
“Unfortunately we have no shortage of redundant factories in our town, but on the other hand we can also boast of having the most highly skilled knitwear and textile workforce by far.
“Opening such a centre will, I’m sure, allow us to showcase and develop that talent even further and, more importantly, it will future-proof an industry that has for centuries been the very lifeblood of Hawick.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer said: “I am very pleased to hear that steady progress is being made towards launching the south of Scotland economic partnership-funded centre of excellence in Hawick in 2019.
“I understand that a former manager of Peter Scott’s knitwear business has landed the job of leading this exciting facility, and that must bring experience and knowledge to this new venture.
“A £600,000 investment in a new high-class training environment with state-of-the-art technology will do a great deal to develop and safeguard the future of our world-famous knitwear industry.”
Fellow ward councillor Davie Paterson agreed, saying: “Hopefully it will encourage more youngsters into the industry and enable our existing knitwear industries to grow and secure employment for the next generation of Borderers coming forward.”
“This is something that folk have been shouting for for a long time, so hopefully this will be a win-win situation for the town, giving youngsters the skills and the expertise to be able to compete in a fiercely competitive world market for their produce.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “This initiative will address business-critical issues in the local textiles and knitwear sector and provide a stream of skilled young workers across all roles, enabling the world-renowned Borders businesses in this sector to address succession planning issues and reduce or remove the need to send work overseas.
“This project will also build on the confidence in the sector, which will hopefully lead to continued investment by those companies already established here and inward investment from others who see the benefits of such collaboration.
“Importantly it also provides genuine work skills for local young people based on a clear pathway to local jobs.”
Russel Griggs, chairman of the south of Scotland economic partnership, said: “The centre of excellence in textiles in Hawick is one of eight projects funded to date, and the news the centre is opening early next year is another exciting milestone for the partnership.
“It again highlights our ambition and commitment to make the south the thriving economy we know it can be.
“More announcements will be on their way which will also show the partnership’s commitment to delivering long-term social and economic benefits for the south of Scotland.”
Cathy Black, head of textiles at Scottish Enterprise’s trade and investment team, said: “This centre of excellence is a great example of partnership working in one of our regions, and I’m sure the communities of the south of Scotland will soon reap the benefits – from providing skills and training at all levels to enabling business growth and boosting the local economy.
“We also hope this vote of confidence in the local sector will lead to greater inward investment, safeguarding existing jobs and creating opportunities for new job creation.”
David Martin, key sector manager for creative industries at Skills Development Scotland, added: “As a partnership between Scottish Borders Council, the enterprise and skills agencies and the textiles industry, this centre of excellence will play a key role in identifying and addressing the skills needs of the sector.
“That ranges from fostering the essential hand and operator skills demanded by high-end knitting and weaving to supporting the development of creative digital skills across marketing, design and pattern coding.
“It will also help develop the creative leadership skills required by all businesses and the capacity and capability to adopt and adapt the advanced manufacturing techniques necessary to compete in the global marketplace.”