SECTOR FOCUS – MANUFACTURING – Knowsley manufacturers who are driving the economy

Manufacturing is one of the key pillars of the Liverpool city region economy, employing 50,000 people across 3,000 businesses and offering an annual GVA contribution of £4bn.


It is home to some of the biggest global names in the sector, including Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Magna, Unilever, Pilkington, Ineos, AstraZeneca and Cammell Laird. From automotive to shipbuilding, from chemicals to pharmaceuticals, the region has many industry leaders.


This is supported by world class infrastructure and support. This includes the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), a University of Liverpool initiative. Its virtual design and manufacture capabilities use the latest specialist 3D visualisation and simulation allowing organisations to explore their designs and optimise manufacturing processes.


Sci-Tech Daresbury is home to the Hartree Centre which houses the most powerful supercomputer in the UK and Sensor City, a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, enables industry and academic partners to translate their innovative sensor concepts into commercially viable products.


Knowsley has long been an industrial powerhouse. And, in March, automotive giant Ford gave the borough a massive vote of confidence by taking back full control of the transmission plant at Halewood with exciting plans for the future

(Read our interview with Plant Manager, Andy Roche).


Figures from Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership reveal that, since 2009, the number of advanced manufacturing jobs in the borough had increased by 28% since 2009 – five times the rate across the UK. Knowsley is well established as a major industrial hub and below are just three of the many companies powering the sector:


Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in Halewood is the UK’s largest car manufacturer, and its Merseyside operations sits on a 300-acre site.


The factory employs 3,700 people directly, supporting a further 1,000 people indirectly through its suppliers and contractors. JLR Halewood produces the award-winning Range Rover Evoque and the Land Rover Discovery Sport, which includes plug-in and hybrid models.


Earlier this year, as part of Jaguar Land Rover’s new global Reimagine strategy, the company announced Halewood and all its other factories would be converted to produce electric-only cars, over the next few years. This follows a £22.5bn investment, as the company drives forward with the complete electrification of its Jaguar and Land Rover brands, by 2039. 


The Halewood factory has one of the most fascinating, resurgent manufacturing stories in the UK for a generation where production and workforce has effectively trebled since 2011- when it launched the Range Rover Evoque.


More than £750m has been invested in infrastructure at Halewood in recent years, including: £250m for its Range Rover Evoque, the fastest selling Land Rover model of all time and £200m for the Discovery Sport. During this time, Jaguar Land Rover Halewood has also seen the installation of two £60m state-of-the-art servo press lines, over 300 new robots and over an acre of new building space, car parks and employee facilities.


Trevor Leeks, plant director at Halewood, said: “We are proud to have our Merseyside manufacturing roots in Knowsley and of the contributions our business makes, not only to the local economy but also to the wider UK economy through our UK supplier contracts.


We are passionate about investing in home grown talent and approximately a third of the workforce – around 1200-employees- live in Knowsley.”


Trevor added: “The announcement of the company’s new Reimagine strategy, which will see the complete electrification of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands by 2039, promises continued investment in our factory- so there is a bright and exciting future ahead for Halewood and the Knowsley region.”



Algal Omega 3


Many of us are aware of the health benefits of omega 3 oil through TV ad campaigns for various food and vitamin products, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular, eye and cognitive health.


There is also some degree of awareness that omega 3 is extracted from fish. This has created a growing environmental problem as the process of extraction requires large quantities of fish to be harvested every year to meet rising demand.


However, the Algal Omega 3 factory in Prescot offers a much more sustainable alternative. It currently employs 36 people and aims to push that number above 40 later in the year. It has been in Knowsley since 1979 and has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years.

In 2019 it scooped the ‘Excellence in Manufacturing’ Award at Knowsley Business Awards after increasing production by an astonishing 800% over the previous five years. One of the investors in the business is Mara Renewables Corporation in Canada, a leading R&D specialist in natural algal biotechnologies.


Algal Omega 3 general manager, Chris Denson, explained how it is helping to make the supply of omega 3 oil much more sustainable. He said: “People might be aware that omega 3 is usually extracted from fish but in actual fact the fish is just the middle man.


“The oil is actually produced by algae and the fish eat the algae, hence why it is extracted from the fish. We cut out that middle man and harvest the oil directly from the algae. Here at Prescot, we ferment the algae and recover the oil using a solvent-free extraction process.”


Once Chris and his team have extracted the unrefined oil it is packed into drums and transported to other facilities where it is further refined before being used in a myriad of food, beverage and nutraceutical products. It also appears in indirect food chain products such as chicken feed.


Like most businesses, Algal Omega 3 was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not to a huge extent. Chris added: “During the first lockdown in 2020 we furloughed a number of staff from March until May with those people who could work from home continuing to work from home.


“But, touch wood, since we came back last May we haven’t had any problems. We have a relatively big space and a small team so implementing social distancing measures hasn’t been a problem.


“In fact, given the growing demand for health-related products during the past 12 months we have become even busier and are evaluating options to grow further in the future”



Webber NW


Webber NW was started in 2011 by brothers Stephen and Jamie Griffin and during that decade has established a UK-wide reputation for the quality of its design, fabrication and installation work.


Based in Kirkby, the business is one of the fastest-growing of its kind in the North West. Working with both construction companies and manufacturers, it specialises in structural steelwork, secondary steelworks, bespoke steelworks, glass balustrade systems, pipework installations and construction projects.


Fabrication takes place at its Knowsley plant and people from its 45-strong team work all over the country on installations. Stephen Griffin said: “We currently have people working in Lincolnshire and on the O2 Arena in London.”


However, similar to many businesses, Webber NW took a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephen added: “I would say our turnover has fallen by around 40% over the past year. Many of our customers put jobs on hold during lockdowns.


“We had one job worth £300,000 and that still hasn’t started up again. We also do work for Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood and they have been affected by the pandemic and that has had a knock-on effect for us.”


Despite the setback, with the country now gradually opening up again thanks to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Stephen is now optimistic for the coming months. He said: “There are signs of a recovery. It looks like the construction sector is really going to take off so we are hopeful business will start to get back to some form of normality.”