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Home » North East Deals Of The Week: Key Contracts, Investments And Acquisitions

North East Deals Of The Week: Key Contracts, Investments And Acquisitions

Spirits maker and visitor attraction The Lakes Distillery is set to be acquired by sparkling wine producer Nyetimber in a £46m deal. The single malt whisky specialist, which set up 13 years ago and has offices in Newcastle, has ambitions to become an internationally leading spirits brand – and Nyetimber says it wants to accelerate a 10-year plan to scale up production at the Cockermouth distillery to at least 500,000 litres per year, up from around 370,000 litres currently.

The offer from £13.8m-turnover Nyetimber – owned by Dutch entrepreneur Eric Heerema – gives The Lakes Distillery an enterprise value of £71m. But the move could herald changes including the potential relocation of its Newcastle base, which is home to 25 staff, and the possible closure of the distillery’s bar and restaurant, which employs 12 people, in order to accommodate the expansion. Nyetimber says it expects to conclude a review of the business within a year of its acquisition, before firm decisions are made.

The Lakes Distillery was set up in 2011 by co-founders Paul Currie and Nigel Mills, both of whom are shareholders. Since then it has established a range of whisky, gin and vodka, and driven thousands tourists to its visitor centre, shop and restaurant on the banks of Bassenthwaite Lake.

James Pennefather, CEO of The Lakes Distillery, said: “By joining the Nyetimber family of companies, The Lakes will benefit, in particular in terms of quality of production, brand marketing and routes to market. ”

Left to right, Commodore Paul Pitcher, UK Docks MD Jonathan Wilson, Graeme Little, deputy director Future Support Acquisition, Harry Wilson UK Docks founder, Commodore Steve Large and Neil Dando of the Hydrographic & Patrol Delivery Team aboard HMS Victory. (Image: Royal Navy) North East marine services firm UK Docks officially took over global support of a number of Royal Navy vessels as part of a £250m contract.

The family business, launched by Harry Wilson in a small boat repair yard in South Shields on the River Tyne in 1992, offers a range of services including dry docks, repair berths and specialist boat repair, at facilities on Tyneside, Teesside, Mashfords, Gosport and Victoria Quay. UK Docks’ contract, worth £250m over the next eight years, will see it provide in-service support to HM Ships Tamar, Spey, Medway, Trent and Forth, adding to support it already offers to the navy, including its ice patrol ship, HMS Protector.

The new signing was made in the Grand Cabin of Horatio Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory in Portsmouth, with Mr Wilson, his co-directors, Stephen Lee and brothers Gary and Chris and UK Docks founder, their father Harry Wilson. The contract, which runs until 2031, will create or safeguard over 100 jobs involved in delivering remote support, technical, logistical and design agent services and management. Work will also be provided for more than 250 companies in their supply chain.

UK Docks managing director Jonathan Wilson, said: “This signing marks a big moment for our company. The contract was awarded last May by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the wake of us successfully maintaining HMS Protector, along with HMS Enterprise and HMS Echo, which have now been decommissioned.

Vrai is to work with BAE Systems to harness the power of data for fast jet training (Image: Vrai) Newcastle tech firm Vrai announced it is working with BAE Systems on a project which is set to boost the training of fast jet pilots.

Virtual reality specialist Vrai, which has bases at Newcastle Helix and in Dublin, works with organisations in defence and security, civil aviation and energy generation, with clients including the Irish Defence Forces, The Royal Air Force, IAG at Heathrow Airport, Orsted, Amazon Web Services and Samsung Electronics. The firm’s team in Newcastle, based at The Catalyst, is now set to work with BAE Systems to harness the power of extended reality and artificial intelligence to enhance the training of fast jet pilots.

BAE Systems will integrate Vrai’s Heat technology, which captures, analyses and visualises simulator data, into a deployable simulator for a Hawk aircraft, the world’s most proven and successful fast jet trainer. Fast jet pilots will be monitored in the virtual reality simulator, with behaviour data drawn from live flying sorties to help work out an individual’s optimum balance between live and synthetic training.

Niall Campion, Vrai managing director for customer and product, said: “At Vrai we believe data is the untapped resource in simulation and by integrating HEAT into a deployable Hawk simulator we can provide instructors with data to track and monitor student performance. By designing the simulator to capture data from the outset, BAE Systems and its customers will be able to leverage the power of artificial intelligence to create bespoke, adaptive learning journeys.”

L-R Sahil Nayyar, director at Cavu Corporate Finance, Sara Worsick, associate solicitor at Muckle, Louise Richley, MD of Beyond Digital Solutions and Josh Campbell, solicitor at Muckle (Image: Mike Smith Photography) South Tyneside digital agency Beyond Digital Solutions has been snapped up by a global tech specialist for an undisclosed sum. The Hebburn-based company has been acquired by ZetaDisplay, a digital signage group based in Malmo, Sweden, which has operations in eight European countries as well as the US.

The North East firm offers digital signage systems, including content design, software, hardware and ongoing support from its base in Monkton Business Park, working with companies in the automotive, local government, transport, industrial, hospitality and retail sectors.

It counts firms and organisations such as Tortilla, Lotus, Jaguar Land Rover, the Port of Tyne, Swissport and the National Health Service as clients, and has worked with North East food-on-the-go firm Greggs for more than 10 years. The company, led by managing director Louise Richley, has a team of around 22 staff according to its latest accounts, including designers, developers, strategists and digital experts. Regional law firm for business Muckle and Cavu Corporate Finance advised Beyond Digital Solutions on its sale.

Left to right: Jane Siddle of NEL Fund Managers, Steven Foley of CCBS Group and Nigel Morris of Nirvana Europe. (Image: NEL Fund Managers) North East sports travel and events firmNirvana Europe is gearing up to grow its presence in North America with the help of a £500,000 investment. The firm organises travel and accommodation for major global sporting organisations and events, including the European and Global Ironman series, British, USA and World Triathlon and the Great Run event series. The company was originally set up in 1999 on the back of its relationship with the Great North Run, a relationship which continues today, and it has a 24-strong team at its Silverlink Business Park base which is responsible for delivering its global events calendar.

The Wallsend firm, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, already has an event management presence in North America, but now it is looking to boost its activity in the US and Canada after working with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in the six-figure investment from the North East Growth Capital Fund.

The team is set to continue to build its portfolio of events in the UK and is looking at opportunities for breaking into new sports, with swimming and athletics high on the agenda. Other sporting events and activities Nirvana Europe is currently involved in include parafencing, wheelchair rugby, the Spartan Race series and the Hyrox indoor fitness championships.

Nigel Morris, managing director at Nirvana Europe, said: “We’re already active in North America, where we’ve found that there aren’t many competitors that can provide the comprehensive services that we deliver at around 150 events every year, and we’re confident that we can make big strides there in the medium term.”

n-gage.io has secured its first major US contract with the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in California (Image: n-gage.io) County Durham immersive technology company n-gage.io has broken into the US after securing a deal to launch a mobile app for a zoo in California. Newton Aycliffe software specialists n-gage.io has secured a deal with the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in California, which has launched a new mobile app to boost visitor experiences. Based in Palm Desert, the zoo welcomes over 600,000 visitors each year to see more than 150 species of animal spread across its 1,200-acre site.

Now the attraction, which work with 70 partners around the world, is helping guests get the best from their trip, with a platform to improve communication, navigation, conservation education and accessibility. Bryan Hoare, CEO of n-gage.io, said: “The Zoo and Gardens are renowned for their work around the world, contributing to wildlife conservation for over half a century.

“We’re proud to build on this legacy and provide their visitors with a digital mobile pocket guide that enhances their visit and experiences, and we’re actively looking to help more zoos, wildlife parks and other attractions across the US to transform their approach to digital engagement.”

Che Connon, chief executive of 3DBT and managing director of BSF (Image: Mike Urwin) Lab grown tissue innovator BSF Enterprise secured £90,000 of funding towards proof of concept projects. Investors in the owner of Newcastle University spin-out 3D Bio Tissues (3DBT) were told it has received more than £50,000 in payments from a partnership with an international leather fashion company. 3DBT’s scientists have produced bio-engineered samples measuring up to 10cm by 10cm in size and 2mm in thickness for the partner, following a 60-week study.

The firm said production of tissues with such thickness and their use by a global manufacturer marked an important milestone. In its update to the London Stock Exchange, BSF also pointed to several other proof of concept projects with other leather companies to establish whether its lab-grown skin product could become a sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional leather. It also hinted a commercial agreements in the offing.

In a further update, BSF said it had also secured £38,000 in grant funding from Innovate UK – the Government’s national innovation agency – to start a project with the University of Northampton.

Che Connon, managing director of BSF Enterprise, said “Today’s announcements represent another milestone in the development and application of 3DBT’s City-mix technology in delivering successful high-quality cultivated tissue to clients within the leather industry. We look forward to seeing these commercial and research partnerships continue to grow as we increase our production capacity to enable further development of cultivated skin on a larger scale to meet the growing demand.”

From left: Markus Kösters LH2; Guido Frenken px Group; Paul Karzel LH2 and Ula Lachoweicz, LH2 deputy MD. (Image: px Group) Industrial infrastructure firm px Group acquired German hydrogen engineering specialist Lifte H2 in an undisclosed deal. The Stockton-based asset manager for the energy and high hazard industrial sectors, which owns Saltend Chemicals Park and Teesside Gas Processing Plant amongst other sites, has taken a majority stake in Berlin-based Lifte which provides engineering services across the hydrogen supply chain from production to use in sectors like heavy transport.

Lifte’s executives and engineers are said to bring substantial experience in working with hydrogen technology having previously played a part in projects for global names such as Shell, RWE and Siemens Energy. The two firms say they share a vision for sustainable infrastructure in the energy sector and px says there is potential to bring the German operator’s expertise to the UK.

Innovation House, the HQ of Tekmar Group, located in Darlington (Image: -Newcastle Journal) Offshore kit specialist Tekmar Group toasted a number of contract wins worth around £6m as it builds upon growing opportunities in the offshore wind market. The Darlington based business, which provides products and solutions to the global offshore energy market, said the new deals tot up its order value in the financial year to date to approximately £23m. The firm announced to shareholders that its subsidiary Pipeshield International has been awarded contracts with a combined value in excess of £4m.

In a separate deal Tekmar’s offshore wind business has secured a contract worth around £2m with a tier one offshore wind contractor, for the design and supply of the group’s flagship Generation 10 cable protection system (CPS) product and associated ancillaries. The cable protection systems are scheduled to be delivered for September 2025.

Estelle Blanks, CEO at Innovation SuperNetwork (left) and Nicki Clark, CEO at UMi. (Image: North News & Pictures) Regional business support organisation Innovation SuperNetwork was acquired by North East contemporary UMi Holdings. The not-for-profit, which specialises in connecting innovating firms with support and finance, has become part of the Durham-based business support firm but will continue to operate as a standalone organisation. The move coincides with CEO Estelle Banks stepping down and UMi’s CEO Nicki Clark taking the helm.

Since its creation eight years ago, Innovation SuperNetwork has helped more than 1,700 business – billing itself as an “anchor point for the region’s innovation ecosystem”, and helping firms access finance and support in order to innovate. It runs the recently re-launched Northern Investor Hub, an investor network of more than 200 angels and funds which has leveraged more than £40m of investment for businesses since 2019. It is also the organiser of the VentureFest series of conferences, which saw its 10th edition last year.

Ms Clark said: “The addition of Innovation SuperNetwork and its specialisms to UMi’s portfolio strategically and practically enhances our collective ability to create an even bigger impact. Both organisations have very clear and aligned purposes – to help SMEs do more and go further by taking the hard work out of accessing and using expertise and finance.”