Duchess of Northumberland Switches on the Armstrong Works Christmas Lights

12th November 2015

The Duchess pictured with John Reece, Chairman of the Reece Group and his wife Sue

Traditions of the past met the innovations of the future when the Duchess of Northumberland lit up the Christmas tree outside the Armstrong Works, upholding the site’s festive tradition.

Recently reopened after a £20m investment by North East family firm Reece Group, the iconic factory along Scotswood Road is home to state-of-the-art engineering and pioneering innovations.

The Duchess was joined at the hi-tech site by employees, charities and community organisations from Newcastle’s West End and beyond who have been supported by the Reece Group and the Reece Foundation with donations totalling more than £12m.

The Duchess said: “I am honoured to have been invited to switch on the Christmas Lights by the Reece Group who have re-energised an iconic North East business through investment across the board.

“It is heart-warming to see how a family business in the 21st century cares about the local community and invests heavily in education and training for the wellbeing of the area.”

The ethos of the Reece Group has been to support the community in which it operates and following its move onto Scotswood Road the business committed over £1m to supporting good causes in the West End of Newcastle.

Reece Group Chairman John Reece Chairman said: “The Christmas tree outside the Armstrong Works is a long-held tradition we wanted to continue. For over 160 years this historic site has played an important role in life in the West End of Newcastle and we wanted to share this festive occasion with members of the community and our employees.

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The Duchess pictured with Phil Kite, CEO of the Reece Group on a tour of the facility

“We also thought it was a great opportunity to bring together the many good causes carrying out important work in the local community which we have supported.

“We hope that by investing in this site and in new technologies there is a bright future for engineering here on the Tyne.”

The Duchess was taken on a tour of the state-of-the-art factory which included the Reece Innovation Centre where a sniper-detecting microphone for military use and an ingenious drinks trolley for hospital patients were demonstrated. A range of equipment, designed by group company Pearson Engineering Ltd and used to increase the capability of armoured fighting vehicles, was also on show.

She also found out more about the work of Reece Group companies Responsive Engineering, Velocity UK and Pipe Coil Technology.

Organisations supported by the Group include The West End Women and Girl’s Centre, Newcastle City Juniors Football Club, Children North East, West End Food Bank, The Northbourne Youth Initiative, Reviving the Heart of the West End, The Tyne Rowing Club, Scotswood Area Strategy, Cornerstone, Footsteps and Derwenthaugh Boat Station.

In addition through the Reece Foundation, which has donated over £11m since its inception in 2007, support is focused on increasing the long term and sustainable prosperity of the North East primarily through the promotion of engineering and manufacturing.

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The Duchess with John Reece, Chairman of the Reece Group welcoming the local charities and schools to Armstrong Works

The foundation has supported Northumbria University, Emmanuel College, St Cuthbert’s School, Thorp Academy, Dame Allan’s School, The Discovery School, Primary Engineer, The Royal Institution, North Tyneside Learning Trust, Beamish Museum and Project North East.

The Duchess also met with retired Vickers workers invited back to the factory to see the results of the £20m transformation.

Alma Wheeler MBE, chair of Scotswood Village Residents Association and founder of the Vickers Defence Systems Retirement Association came along with two of its oldest members.

Alma, who worked in personnel for Vickers for 32 years and gave her name to the battle tank “Big Alma” that served in the Gulf War, said she was thrilled that the Christmas tree tradition started by Lord Armstrong was being continued.

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The Duchess pictured with Eddie McQueen an ex Vickers worker (left) and Charlotte Saint a budding engineer from Emmanuel College (right)

She said: “When the factory closed a lot of people were worried that it might be knocked down, so I’m thrilled that Reece Group have brought it back into use.

“They are also continuing the traditions that Lord Armstrong started. He always made sure he looked after the community as well as workers.

“We have a strong sense of community in this part of Newcastle and it is wonderful for all the organisations to come together like this.

“The factory has played such an important part in the history of the West End. I can remember as a child, the thunderous noise of hobnail boots in the street when the hooters went off in the morning to let people know it was time to go to work.”

“The new factory is fantastic, I hope it will have a positive impact on Scotswood area of Newcastle.”