New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE) announces that Professor Robert Hairstans has joined as Founding Director of its Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT).  His role will be to lead the development and delivery of the CATT, to help establish it as the leading national location in timber education and to work with the broader NMITE academic team to create a sustainable educational portfolio. 

Hairstans joins on a two-year secondment from the number one modern university in Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University (ENU), where he is head of the Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures (COCIS) within the University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction.   Commenting on the appointment, Professor Beverley Gibbs, Chief Academic Officer, NMITE said “We are thrilled at Professor Hairstans’ arrival and know he has the expertise, experience and passion to develop and deliver the CATT’s vision.” 

Professor Hairstans’ specialist expertise is in the fields of timber engineering and technology with a focus on adding value to the timber supply chain with an emphasis on engineered timber products and offsite (modular) construction.  Commenting on his appointment, he says â€œI am delighted to be the Founding Director of the CATT. Working with industry I want to accelerate the utilisation of timber, digitisation and factory-based approaches by ensuring an inclusive educational model which generates a value return for the sector via the next generation of built environment professionals.”  

Central to this vision is a new learning and teaching building in Hereford’s dynamic enterprise zone – Skylon Park.  NMITE’s building will be a beacon of sustainability and is NMITE’s inaugural advanced campus building that will impact timber technology and advanced manufacturing, sectors that are critical to regional and national growth.  The building will accommodate extensive workshops, studio learning space, breakout/study space and ancillary areas.  Planning permission has been submitted with the expectation of starting on site in April 2021 and structural completion by March 2022.  When complete, this facility will complement the research and timber testing infrastructure of ENU and, by extension, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre which is hosted by ENU.  This Centre has a unique Innovation Factory capable of manufacturing advanced timber technologies including a vacuum press for Cross Laminated Timber production.   

The appointment has the additional benefit of bringing together two organisations who, having seen the potential of a future partnership, have now signed a Memorandum of Understanding.  A key focus of the UK wide collaborative framework is the idea of CATT as a â€˜living lab’, working with industry to develop projects that prototype solutions with students gaining knowledge from real-life conditions.  Gibbs explains “NMITE has always shown interest in working in partnership with existing sector leaders who support NMITE’s potential and are open to exploring new educational approaches for the benefit of industry and society.  Throughout the recruitment process we constantly heard that ENU were the UK players to talk to and work with and ENU also has a better-than-standard gender split on their built environment course which is one of our core values.” 

Gibbs continues â€œWe are therefore excited at the prospect of a partnering relationship with ENU and respect its accomplishments in sustainable built environment.  Together, we believe we can offer a joined-up UK-wide educational provision for timber technology that extends throughout the supply chain and user base.  We believe a NMITE-ENU partnership could provide a clear opportunity to accelerate and leverage CATT’s full potential.”  Hairstans agrees “I look forward to forging a collaboration between NMITE and ENU which will shape the future of construction delivery to more sustainable forms.”  In the longer term NMITE explains its ambition is to catalyse a UK-wide, full-sector skills strategy for timber technology and sustainable built environment, bringing about growth and impact on industry, society and the environment.   

NMITE will continue to focus on education and skills and will benefit from ENU’s research and technology transfer. Sited on the England/Wales border, NMITE believes by working with ENU it will be able to look at a UK-wide framework, without competing, for the benefit of all. NMITE explains that it is looking forward to meeting the needs of its industry partners and furthering its vision to develop and provide a degree apprenticeship in Timber Engineering underpinned by a Timber Technology, Engineering and Design competency framework that supports flexible learning and pathway progression.