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scaling new heights

21st March 2013

scaling new heights

Local newspaper, the Sheerness Times Guardian sent the intrepid reporter Lewis Dyson to the top. Find out how he got on…

I WASN’T sure if I had a fear of heights, but I soon found out. There was no looking back, or down, as I stood at the foot of Checkmate’s new 72ft structure known as The Tor.

It is being used to train technicians how to climb and maintain wind turbines and also for the practice of emergency rescues. A typical scenario would be if someone has a heart attack and is dangling from a mast, how do you get him down?

Managing director Oliver Auston explained the reasons behind the name of the £60,000 lattice building, so-called because of its criss-cross framework. A tor is a reference to a mountain peak and it is also a nod to the company’s logo of a knight’s shield, which links to one of the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Tor.

The third reason is more emotive. It is the nickname of Mr Auston’s fiancée Victoria Hart, business administrator of Checkmate’s Height and Rescue Training (HART) division. The tower was launched on the 31-year-old’s birthday, February 14, which her future husband acknowledged is, “ironic for a business called HART”.

The company designs and manufactures lifting and safety equipment at its factory in New Road, Sheerness, so as I made my way up the tower, I was decked out in a safety harness made entirely by Sheppey hands. I also held on to materials supplied by Sheerness-based Engineering Solutions, so was putting a lot of faith in Islanders.

Trading director Andy Stock was up top to greet me and attach my harness to the rail.

Anyone who goes up the tower will always wear at least two clips, so that when switching between sections, one of them is connected at all times.

What I initially thought was my own jelly legs was actually the platform swaying in the wind.

Mr Stock told me that 80-metre tall wind turbines, almost four times the height of the Tor, usually swing much more violently from side to side.

I took a few moments to admire a beautiful, rare glimpse of Sheppey from above, before being attached to a pulley and gradually lowered.

As I touched down safely on the ground, I didn’t know why I had been worried.

Checkmate hopes its new project, which started in December 2012, will provide a boost to Sheppey’s economy.

The firm employs 60 people, including four taken on as a direct result of the tower.

Mr Auston said: “We are now looking for apprentices, training technicians and developing relationships with companies. There is a growing demand for more support courses and dedicated technicians.This industry is only getting bigger and there are opportunities for people almost at school leaving age to get in on this. Demand will outstrip our current resources of people, we can see that in the short term. It is a really exciting time for us.”

Expert training

The Tor was built to take advantage of a renewable energy boom in the South East, including wind farms at Thanet, the London Array, and the Kentish flats.

Managing director Mr Auston, 31, said: “If you are working in the south of England we would be the first port of call for training in the renewable sector.

“We are one of the only centres in the UK that is accepted and approved by Siemens, Renewable UK and GWO (Global Wind Organisation).”

Anyone who works as a technician on wind farm needs to be trained by engineering giant Siemens, which builds many of the turbines.

He added: “We believe it to be the largest tower of its type, although we are yet to have it confirmed.”

Another arrow to Checkmate’s bow includes three 10-metre high timber beams, used to train engineers how to climb telegraph poles.

It also has 38 metres of rat runs inside its factory and is converting a truck, both of which will be used to acclimatise people to working in confined spaces.

By Lewis Dyson, Reporter, Sheerness Times Guardian