When the Shotton Steelworks in Deeside shed 8,500 jobs in 1980 – the largest single loss of jobs ever in the UK – it left the surrounding north Wales community in crisis. Now, a trailblazing non-profit project to bring its derelict former HQ into community use is aiming to breathe new life into the area.
The Grade II-listed John Summers Clock Tower on the banks of the River Dee was home to Shotton Steelworks' general office from 1907 and was, at one point, the HQ of British Steel – fell into ruin after closing in 2009 and being sold off by Tata, which has owned Shotton Works since 2007.
More than a decade later, Vicki Roskam is spearheading a drive to bring it back to life through the Enbarr Foundation. Aided by the local community, she wants to open a community hub, heritage skills and training centre, and more, in the building. Vicki’s ambition is to “build [the clocktower] back to what it was” as a “beacon of hope” for the region and a place where people can “celebrate their heritage”.
She admits the £5.2m site revamp is a “massive undertaking” but she remains undaunted, which is perhaps unsurprising for a woman whose motto is, “If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough.”
The ambitious project has won more than £600,000 in grants and financial support from organisations including Welsh Government, Transport for Wales, the National Lottery, the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, Comic Relief, Architectural Heritage, CADW, Parc Adfer and Flintshire County Council. Full construction work recently started at the site.
But it has been local volunteers – proud of their links to the region's industrial heritage and many with generations of family history linked to the site – who have been key to the success of the project, Vicki explains, having thrown their fundraising and physical skills behind the bid to save the clocktower.
“At the one point 15,000 people work for [the steelworks]. People moved here for those jobs, bringing their families. And they’re still here,” says Vicki. “People are realising now that if they invest in this site, it's going to invest back.”
Known as ‘Guardians’, the volunteers regularly show up to help on site to share and learn skills as they help bring the Clocktower back into use. “On a sunny Saturday, as many as 60 to 70 volunteers can be helping,” says Vicki. “The Guardians come out every single week, every Saturday. They learn skills and renovate the gardens.”
Celebrating the industrial heritage of north Wales and putting the region and its business calibre on the map are also key objectives. Vicki fears north-east Wales is often seen as a place “people drive right past” to get to what are perceived to be north Wales’s traditional highlights. “The economy around here is all highly skilled. We've got airports, we've got Toyota, we've got Tata – all highly skilled. We've got one of the biggest industrial estates on our doorstep,” she says. “But they have to pull people from other areas.”
Vicki hopes that the redeveloped site can be a hub that will help keep people living and working in the region, which is why the development of skills and providing training is one of the key focuses of the project. “We need something to keep our young people in the area to grow the area. So what this building means is skills, entrepreneurship and support from local businesses. We need to support that growth and we need to support those skills. Otherwise, they will move away. That's why the community called it the beacon of hope, not me. That's what they've named because they see that they can have people in there of all generations, all working together on that goal.”
A co-working and flexible office space in the clocktower is also on the agenda for the same reason: to help local businesses and people thrive in their local community. “Deeside hasn't got anything like that,” she explains. “This will be next to a train station on a coastal path so you can cycle to work. It's got a massive boardroom. These businesses that have to go to Chester can come back into Wales. The boardroom will be there to hold meetings. Who wouldn't want to work there?”
And the project doesn’t only involve building skills for those of working age. Also among the volunteers are “about 50 kids”, says Vicki. “It's absolutely brilliant because we've got loads of young people going through the Duke of Edinburgh because there was no Duke of Edinburgh Award around here.”
The Enbarr Foundation claimed victory in the Wales Start Up awards in the North Wales category in 2020. The award, sponsored by Ambition North Wales, aims to showcase the inspiring start-up businesses within the region. Winning the category provided the project with recognition and put it on a strong footing.
“The win was brilliant,” says Vicki, “because we got recognition by the Welsh Government as being something serious. We got recognised on a different platform and started networking with different people, and it gave the project the foundation that it was something real.”
Endorsement from Ambition North Wales has been a boon, says Vicki because it says that if “they believe in it, then maybe others should.”
With work on the site underway and the community behind the project, the future for the John Summers Clocktower and the people it aims to serve looks bright.