THE UK’S first Covid testing ‘Megalab’ has opened in Leamington.
The Rosalind Franklin laboratory in Tachbrook Park, owned and operated by the Department of Health and Social Care, has begun processing hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 samples.
The UK’s largest testing centre aims to detect new variants and help stop the spread of the virus, while bringing jobs to the area.
It is expected to create up to 1,500 jobs when fully staffed, with over 300 people on-board already and over 700 more joining in the near future.
The laboratory’s name honours Rosalind Franklin, the English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work in the 1950s was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of viruses.
It aims to create and upskill scientists and, with close links to universities, inspire a new generation to choose a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
PhD research students in medical, life and data sciences from Warwick University and others in the region are about to begin placements as data scientists and bioscience leads at the laboratory. They will be joined by a number of undergraduate life science students in other supporting roles at the start of the new academic year in September.
Prof Mike Shipman, the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor, said: “The University of Warwick is not just geographically close to the laboratory. As one of the UK’s leading research led universities, we are able provide considerable world class science led support, advice and assistance.
“A significant number of our staff and research students with laboratory skills, and experience in the establishment and operation of laboratory spaces, are already working closely with the laboratory, and even more will soon join them.”
Jobs have also been created in the wider manufacturing and supply chain – with up to 90 new local roles for key frontline positions when fully operational in roles such as waste management, cleaning, reception and technical services.
However, Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western, along with campaign group South Warwickshire Keep our NHS Public, is concerned about the level of ‘secrecy’ by the Department of Health and Social Care around the project after delays to its opening – and claims former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was ‘evasive’ when questioned by Mr Western over costs.
Mr Western also said he had been contacted by residents in his constituency who have signed contracts to begin working at the laboratory, but have heard nothing from recruiters for months.
He added they have lost out on crucial wages during a pandemic and been left in chaos – while some were directed to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The Government’s other planned mega-laboratory which was set to open in Scotland has been scrapped due to a ‘lack of demand.’