HAVELOCK Europa, the Alternative Investment Market-listed interiors manufacturer, has signalled its return to health with the establishment of a "Havelock Academy" apprenticeship scheme.

Havelock employs some 450 people in Fife, split between its Dalgety Bay headquarters, its factory in Kirkcaldy and warehouses at Dysart. It says the new scheme, offering modern apprenticeships to school-leavers and others, is an investment in the firm's future in Fife.

The announcement came as Havelock unveiled a positive trading statement suggesting it would return to profitability this year after rationalising the business and slashing debt.

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Eric Prescott, chief executive, said: "This is an ambitious project and one about which I am personally passionate.

"We will provide up to 20 academy places, leading to 12 apprenticeships in Fife.

"The Havelock Academy is a way of passing on skills and experience to the next generation and, more than that, it is about planning for the future for all of us.

"This programme is in addition to the 17 recent new appointments at our factory in Kirkcaldy."

Havelock said trading in its traditionally stronger second half had continued to live up to the expectations of the interim results in September.

The shares edged up 0.25p to 16.88p, valuing the group at £6.35 million, the highest level since June 2011, having dipped as low as 8p last August. They perked up 11% on Monday when private investor Andrew Burgess took his stake in the group to above 20%.

The group said the strength of the opening order book for 2013 was encouraging. "Discussions with retail customers about activity levels are positive and the business continues to develop relationships with new customers while international activity is progressing on the back of business secured from existing customer relationships."

The interiors division hopes to build on a 19% rise in income to £34.6m in the first half, when losses narrowed from £1.3m to £100,000. Although the domestic market has been tough, Havelock works with Marks & Spencer in China and has also been active with Primark's expansion into Europe. First-half overall losses were cut by 25% to £1.2m, with house broker Investec predicting break-even by the end of 2012.

The group said: "Encouragingly, new projects in the educational sector under regional or local schemes continue to come to market. In addition, discussions on further framework agreements are in progress."

In the educational supplies arm, framework agreements had generated additional revenue, particularly for the Stage Systems arm.

Havelock separately announced yesterday that ESA McIntosh, its education business now co-located in Fife with interiors manufacturing, had won a £1.1m contract to provide furniture, fittings and equipment for a new £28m specialist academy near Bradford.

Stage Systems is providing the drama infrastructure, and work begins next month.

Havelock said control of working capital remained a key focus.