New video documents Grimsby's offshore wind-powered transformation

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 19 Mar 2019

Grimsby’s offshore wind-led economic transformation is being used as a passionate and evocative case study outlining the opportunity it offers communities globally.

A pride-soaked 12-minute documentary has been made by the town’s largest inward investor, pushing the change of fortunes in Grimsby to those on the US East Coast, where one commentator talks of “feeling as if the future left us behind.”

Entitled Offshore Winds of Change, the footage weaves cinematic landscape shots with interviews, featuring Grimsby MP Melanie Onn, North East Lincolnshire Council chief executive Rob Walsh and early industry pioneer Kurt Christensen.

And it brings in a strong family narrative with Orsted’s own Humber stakeholder advisor, Lauren Little, and her father Steve’s fears that he would be the last of a family line to ‘work down dock’ before the renewable sector landed. She now works in the East Coast hub, yards from the Grimsby Fish Market he made his daily call at.

Starting on the US coast, in a “city which once led the world” where “whaling captains and ship owners made vast fortunes,” consultant Bob Unger describes a picture where the parallels are immediately obvious with Grimsby’s claim to the title of the world’s largest fishing port. 

Moving to Grimsby Town Hall, Mr Walsh said: “Grimsby’s legacy is a fantastic fishing heritage, but we have had to come out of that and think differently. And over the last five, six, seven years, particularly, working with companies, with public agencies and with the government we have set about creating a new vision for Grimsby, and the Humber region, and a big part of that vision is around offshore wind and renewable energy. I think green energy is part of our answer for the next 30 to 50 years, and it is sustainable.”

Rob Walsh in Grimsby Town Hall on Orsted's Offshore Winds of Change documentary video.

The recently announced Offshore Wind Sector Deal and Grimsby Town Deal are key pillars, with another close to that, Ms Onn, taking a seat in the Jubilee Cafe on the docks. A setting for the gritty drama This is England, and again seen in Channel Four's 'poverty porn documentary' Skint, it sits as a constant amid huge changes.  

Ms Onn said: “I really feel if it can happen in Grimsby there is no reason why it can’t happen anywhere, and all communities can feel the benefits of having new industry like offshore wind in their area.

“Grimsby is becoming well known now as a leader in this area of technology and expertise. It is the place people want to come whether they are coming from London or America, and we have had quite a lot of interest from the States. This is where they want to come and see how transformational a change can be from one industry.

Melanie Onn at The Jubilee Cafe on Orsted's Offshore Winds of Change documentary video.

“There are lots of communities, not just in this country, but around the world, that are suffering from this post-industrial town syndrome that internationalism has affected. But if Grimsby can adapt, there’s absolutely no reason why other communities around the world cannot adapt and accept something new, something different, something very much in 21 st century that will help the whole of the country.” 

Dennis Avery, skipper of Grimsby’s lasting monument to Icelandic trawling, the Ross Tiger, and its curator David Ornsby, also feature, while Orsted’s deputy operations manager Ash Hedges brings a different perspective, on work-life balance, from his globe-trotting forces background. 

Bringing local business opportunity to the fore is Kurt Christensen. He set up a company to support the major operators in the town, initially with little more than his contacts book. He went on to provide some of the first crew transfer vessels to the early wind farms, while acting as an agent to the many larger vessels.

Kurt Christensen in the midst of an offshore wind farm array on Orsted's Offshore Winds of Change documentary video.

Telling how his family didn’t want him to go to sea, he reflects on his errand boy to entrepreneurial life until the downturn in fishing hit. 

A former Danish consul, he said: “All of a sudden in 2005, wind power came to Grimsby. It had no local knowledge and everyone said ‘go and see Kurt’. That’s when I formed Windpower Support. There I was at the age of 60, every day meeting someone new, learning something new and making some money. It was absolutely brilliant, and I’m pleased to see it carrying on. 

“We were quite helpful, people kept saying to us ‘you’re doing such a good job’, and they were saying ‘what management systems were you using, how do you do this?’. The only thing I did for wind power was what I did for fishing. It is not rocket science, boats come in they want fuel, they want food, they want to change crew, they want repairs and hey want to get back out there again, because a boat in dock is not earning money. The rest is history. We had 10 years of helping to develop the wind power business in Grimsby. If wind power is coming to your town grab it with both hands. You will be rewarded, it is a fascinating ride.”

Our man David Laister's take on Orsted's Offshore Winds of Change: 

Free from maps, graphs, and statistics that have been a mainstay of explaining a nascent industry, this is a powerful piece of footage that captures a seminal moment in Grimsby's development. 

With a backdrop of an Offshore Wind Sector Deal and the ongoing build out of the world's largest offshore wind farms in  waters off the Humber, the work in the cluster we know and love has attracted international interest.

From the Far East to the US East Coast, delegations have been driven around the port estate, taking in the transformation from dilapidated fish dock to thriving operations and maintenance centre. Yes there may be areas still in need of something slightly more than a spit and a polish, but the investment that has lit up Grimsby's economy shows no sign of abating. 

Humber Renewables Awards 2019

Away from the hard nosed figures, bar charts and geographic reasoning, this speaks from the souls and minds of those closest to the town's heartbeat, and the industry's pulse.  A personal journey of what it means and has meant thus far. 

There's still some way to go, but every turbine turn cranks up the aspirations of the next school leaver, apprentice or university graduate. We now have an exciting, innovative, environmentally friendly and responsibility-aware industry on our doorstep, and it is delivering for all. 

There's a pride attached to 12 minutes of video here that could rival those golden goals of Wayne Burnett, Kevin Donovan and the other highlights of that 1998 season, or the Nathan Arnold Wembley slide and all that came before in 2016.

Make time, make a cuppa - or as afternoon becomes evening grab a Docks Beer - and take in this digital history in the making. 

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