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AkzoNobel brings North East heritage to life for Dutch Embassy

Officials from The Embassy of the Netherlands in London have received a unique insight into the heritage of the North East during a recent visit to AkzoNobel’s state-of-the-art facility in Ashington.

Representatives from the Embassy spent an afternoon touring the manufacturing unit in Ashington, which has been hailed as the most sustainable paint factory in the world.

During the visit, the officials received a guided tour of the plant, met with staff and also had a unique opportunity to learn more about the site’s cultural values through the medium of art. 

“We were delighted to welcome representatives from the Dutch Embassy in London to our manufacturing unit in Ashington,” said Jeff Hope, head of manufacturing unit at AkzoNobel Ashington.

“This is the first time that the Embassy has visited Ashington so this is undoubtedly a big milestone in our site’s history.”

Home to AkzoNobel’s iconic Dulux brand, the £100 million site in Ashington is the single largest investment ever made by the Dutch-headquartered paints and coatings business.

In addition to showcasing its manufacturing prowess, AkzoNobel was keen to impress upon its visitors the unique culture that the site was founded on, which takes into close consideration the industrial background of the area.

To help illustrate this culture, quite literally for its guests, AkzoNobel Ashington teamed up with the nearby Woodhorn Museum to loan two original works of art by the Ashington Group, along with the paint set which was used to create one of the paintings.

The Ashington Group, also known as the ‘Pitmen Painters’ was an amateur art group which rose to fame for its canvas depictions of life above and below ground for mining communities in Northumberland.

Starting life as an art appreciation class in the early 1930s through the Workers Education Association, the Group’s tutor wanted them to learn about art though ‘doing’, so the group started to paint.

This mentality has been a source of inspiration for AkzoNobel Ashington.

“Ashington is immensely proud of its coal mining heritage,” Jeff added.

“AkzoNobel Ashington is actually built next to the site of the old North Seaton colliery which closed in 1961. The closure of the pits had a huge effect on the town and the surrounding areas, with many people losing their jobs. This is something we have been mindful of from the earliest commissioning stages of the plant, especially when it comes to recruitment.

“Because the Ashington facility was 90% prototype in its construction, bringing together pioneering technologies from all over the world, it has allowed us the flexibility to employ staff based on cultural fit instead of knowledgeability, with the theory that skills can be learnt, but having the right heart cannot.

“Since the site first started recruiting in 2013, we have delivered over 33,000 individual lines of training in over 1,200 different competencies through our ‘Kilbourn Academy’, named after one of the founding members of the Ashington Group, which has created a highly-skilled and sustainable workforce through both knowledge and culture.

“We were overwhelmed to be able to have some of the Pitmen Painters’ original works on-site at Ashington and we would like to extend our immense gratitude to the curators at Woodhorn Museum for helping us to make our visit from the Dutch Embassy so memorable. The artwork really helped to bring Ashington’s history to life for our visitors.”

Peter Hewitt, Curator of Mining Culture at Woodhorn, said: “We were thrilled to loan two paintings and an original workbox filled with paints from the 1940s to AkzoNobel Ashington. The latter belonged to William Dobson who used them to paint the scene ‘Bothal Castle’, a beauty spot not far from Ashington which was an inspiration to many of the Pitmen Painters. The other work was by Jimmy Floyd – a founder member of the Ashington Group – called ‘Last Smoke before Descending’ and depicts life at the pit-head before a hard shift. These works were donated directly to Woodhorn Museum, part of Museums Northumberland.

“As a museums service, we are delighted that our historic collections have such a strong resonance in the contemporary world – the state-of-the-art AkzoNobel factory on our very doorstep is living proof of this. We look forward to working more closely with AkzoNobel in the future.”

AkzoNobel is a world-leading producer of decorative paints and coatings. Famous for its household brands such as Dulux, Polycell and Hammerite, the Ashington site is capable of producing paint in up to 33,000 different colours.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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