March 2024 Stakeholder News

A huge thank you to all who came to our first stakeholder meeting of March on Wednesday 6th at The Speech House Hotel, it was a well attended evening of networking and FEP news.

Special thanks are in order to Vice Lord-Lieutenant Roger Deeks, Amanda Deeks, and FoDDC CEO Nigel Brinn, who came along to show their support and commitment to the District, for which we are incredibly grateful. Not forgetting our three speakers, DEEP, Outsource Automation Solutions, and Together Gloucestershire, who kindly agreed to share all about their businesses and current projects. From deep sea engineering, to employing digital workers, to a collaborative procurement strategy, our guests are leading on bringing cutting edge technology, new thinking, and exciting initiatives into the Forest of Dean. 

Couldn't make it? Read on for the full break down of the evening….

First up we heard from DEEP’s Director of Advanced Manufacturing Louise Slade, who explained how the project has developed since the official unveiling in September 2023. For a start they now have a specialist 'expeditions' team on site i.e. the team who will be training for life at the bottom of sea! We saw 3D designs of the Sentinel pods which will be the actual living & working bases on the ocean floor. These include features like individual bedrooms (unusual – workers normally get bunk beds), viewpoints in the “Great Hall” to maintain a connection with their environment, and the futuristic sounding "moon pool” that will be the main access point into the ocean. These pods are huge, measuring 18 metres long and 6 metres wide, for manageable construction and transportation need to be built in individual sections. However, there are few manufacturers capable of handling such requirements, so in typical DEEP ingenuity, they moved to Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM), essentially a robot arm that 3D prints with carbon steel (with a protective cladding to prevent rusting). Using the WAAM technology, they created the Hex Bot, i.e. six of these robot arms working in synchronisation to create one piece. This Hex Bot is an absolute game changing piece of tech in building the Sentinel’s allowing for less waste and much reduced lead times. They now currently own 19 robots across different sites, and plan to officially begin printing Sentinel pieces by the end of 2024.

Director of DEEP Labs Chris Griffiths then took over to share more on the details of DEEP Campus and why they chose the Forest of Dean in particular. They quite literally had the pick of the world when it came to location, and scoured all over it to find the right site. As just a starting point, they needed a suitable body of water with additional land to develop, good access, and accommodation for staff. Even with this long list of requirements, the Forest of Dean had it all. At 650 metres long, 100 metres wide, and 80 metres at its deepest, the quarry could quite importantly fit a Sentinel, and remarkably clear water provided excellent working conditions. It also has good access to the M5 (and as as such, the rest of the country), enough space to create the campus, and potential to develop staff accommodation at The Abbey Hotel in Tintern.

We also heard how passionate DEEP are about offering opportunities locally wherever possible to fill the predicted 75-100 vacancies, the WAAM robots alone requiring a number of skilled staff to operate them. They are keen to upskill and provide apprenticeships to foster talent and bring new skills into the area, particularly focusing on underrepresented groups in STEM. At FEP we are keen to facilitate strong links between DEEP and Forest of Dean schools, so watch this space. 

Now with multiple investors behind them, DEEP are advancing ever closer to their target of having a Sentinel underwater by 2027.


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Next up was Pete Marshall who, like DEEP, works with robots and while his aren’t quite Hex Bots, they are still absolute game changers. Pete is the founder of Outsource Automation Solutions (OAS), a Bream based business that uses Digital “Workers” to automate repetitive processes, freeing staff from the dull but vital work that keeps businesses running day to day. 

The beginnings of OAS are a true entrepreneurial success story. After a decline in work during the pandemic Pete was voluntarily automating processes for the NHS, but on recognising some untapped potential, set up OAS alongside his co-founder with just £1,000 between them. Now in 2024, they have automations in 18 NHS trusts, 4 councils, 3 housing associations, the Welsh Ambulance service, to name just a few, and 15 staff across the country. 

Automation is truly impressive, according to Pete there isn’t much the robots can’t do. Majority of computer work can be easily automated, including translation, reading emails, managing invoices - in most cases it’s easier to say what they can’t do! It’s not just admin, their robots can tackle highly complex processes, for example one private Radiology operator used OAS to automate the verification of scans for report writing, saving of hours of consultants time. Their robots work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they never get sick or tired, never make mistakes, don’t need training, are 3-4 x quicker than humans, and (according to Pete) cheaper.

The goal of OAS has always been to bring automation to SME’s and help them compete with the big players. Where in a small business every staff member is key and time is valuable, by using automation companies can take on bigger orders, work more efficiently, and by simply adding a few more robots, scale up with ease without significant cost increases.

Automation has potential to change the face of business forever. The list of benefits is endless, humans are free to focus their time elsewhere, businesses can work across language barriers and time zones easily, there’s no back logs due to annual leave etc. The world is changing and businesses need to be looking to new technology to ensure they are at the forefront and providing the best services to consumers. Pete noted that during the Covid-19 lockdown, businesses already using automation actually coped much better than those who weren't. The world is unpredictable at the moment, we’re facing a climate emergency, cost of living crisis, and an ageing workforce – who knows what challenges we will be facing in the future?  Are Digital Workers the answer to our next big challenge? OAS think so. 

Finally we heard from Peter Ellison of Together Gloucestershire, a collaborative formed out of the pandemic dedicated to keeping procurement within the county. Peter shared that on average, only 15% of procurement spend is within 30 miles, yet if this was increased to just 20% it would create an annual investment of £551.5 million into the region. That's huge potential and, according to Together Gloucestershire, a completely viable target if businesses work together. Greater local investment could bring improved employment, increased household revenue, increased retail spend, stronger communities, better business investment, and lower travel miles for our goods.

To support their aims, Together Gloucestershire are creating a central database in which buyers and sellers can add themselves to as a ‘one stop shop’ to find local suppliers, which will run alongside a voluntary pledge committing to supporting local. Crucially, they also want to raise awareness. Local procurement has often been overlooked, to date not one company has been able to say immediately how much spend takes place within 30 miles of the business. If Together Gloucestershire can highlight how vital local supply chains are for businesses, communities, and the county, and support these businesses to do better, we all might see positive changes in the area.

For initiatives like this to work you need buy in from the top down, and they are already working with some big players, including engineering giants Renishaw and Spirax Sarco. It's always been clear that collaboration across the board from companies big and small is a good thing, so it was inspiring to hear about the change we could actually bring about if we actively committed to make decisions that have a community benefit. It also provided food for thought on a more local scale, we know the Forest of Dean is home to a range of diverse businesses and the FEP has always aimed to facilitate improved connectivity amongst them, how can we keep this work going and ensure this is happening in the most effective way possible? 


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It wasn’t just guest speakers though, we also heard from our directors on various activities and goings on behind the scenes at FEP. 

Our Education & Skills sub group is hard at work on a proposal to fund the Young Enterprise Launch Pad programme for 12-15 students, and based on its success, then funding the Company Programme for 32 students. Schools are often telling us there is a great appetite amongst students to learn entrepreneurial skills and gain creative work experience, which both programmes would offer as well as developing overall their employability. The subgroup is always open to new members, please get in touch if you’d like to get involved.

Climate Action is our newest sub group, where we are working with Publica Climate Change officers to develop a new digital platform for businesses to share their needs for solutions, materials, resources etc, with solution providers or opportunities. This project aims to establish the needs of businesses, problems in need of solutions, and create effective working partnerships amongst businesses.

The Digital Connectivity sub group is overseeing the final stages of the Cinderford Gigaclear roll out which is due to complete in 2024. Churcham and Bradley Hill, however, are complete, which is a fantastic milestone to have achieved.

We also heard from Ian Mean on Celebrating Success, our latest project dedicated to championing the innovation demonstrated by Forest of Dean businesses. We have hired Rebecca Clay as our marketing and communications specialist to create a communication plan that aims to connect with more FoD businesses and social enterprises, increase awareness of FEP lobbying work, research and sub-group activities, and increase ongoing active participation from stakeholders in FEP activity. With Rebecca’s support the FEP can develop a more strategic approach to communications as we aim to keep momentum going through 2024 and into 2025. .  

Finally, we launched the update of our SWOT analysis, which we first created in 2018! This updated SWOT will form part of the baseline work that will eventually inform the FoDDC's new Sustainable Economy Strategy, so it’s really key we’re working with the most relevant economic prioritises.

We still want to hear from you if you didn't make the stakeholder. You can access the SWOT here, is there anything we’re missing? Something that should be amended? Something that needs to be removed? Let us know by emailing us at


Our March stakeholder meeting has kicked off an exciting year for the FEP, and it’s so brilliant to see see such a diverse group of businesses, organisations, and individuals committed to seeing a thriving Forest of Dean. It’s an exciting time and as a community, we can bring real change to our district. 

Our next stakeholder with 12th June – see you there!