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Business shipshape with new contract; Once one of many companies working in the North East's booming ship industry, Tyne Gangway is now the only business of its kind in UK and one of only a handful left in Europe. KAREN DENT finds out about the business's roots and its long association with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

TYNE Gangway started life making bathing machines for Victorian ladies, and though there isn't much call for them these days, it remains a specialist company.

In the 21st Century, the Wallsend firm is the only ships' gangway manufacturer left in the UK. Currently, it is working on a major contract for BAE Systems, which is constructing the MoD's two new aircraft carriers at Rosyth in Scotland.

Set up in the 1930s, Tyne Gangway was originally part of the Linklaters paint and ship-fitting company that started life in the 1800s.

Former owner Stuart Wellington, who still works for Tyne Gangway, said: "The company initially made bathing machines for ladies in their crinolines at Tynemouth.

"Linklaters was based in Tynemouth and they moved into marine. But in 1934, there was an argument in the family and one of the cousins/brothers went off and set up the Tyne Gangway company." Making gangways was once a major business on Tyneside - legally, they must be fitted to every ship over 30m in length - but today, there are very few specialists left.

Mr Wellington said: "The competition is not so great worldwide - we only have 10 to 12 active competitors worldwide.

"It's not easy now. Even when the UK had a very active shipbuilding industry, we had to compete for work against each other. It was very tightly costed.

"Now, being the sole survivor, it means we have to be fair.

"Most of the shipbuilding is now on the Continent and about 60% of our work is abroad."

In addition to gangways, the firm has diversified into a range of other aluminium structures, including accommodation ladders, shore-based pedestrian access equipment and special structures. It also designs and makes items such as radar masts, hatch covers and footbridges.

Its current clients include oil and gas giants Esso, Shell and AGIP, as well as the MoD, with which Tyne Gangway has a long history.

The current work, as a subcontractor to BAE Systems, is to making accommodation ladders for the two new aircraft carriers, which are due to be completed in 2016 and 2018 respectively. It has taken 10 months to design and construct each of the ladders, which must be able to carry the weight of 33 people. The design was a joint project between BAE Systems' chief designer Jim Weir and Kevin Nergaard, his counterpart at Tyne Gangway.

BAE has described the construction of the aircraft carriers as the "biggest project in Britain after the Olympic Games". Gordon Ralph, BAE's supply chain advisor, said: "This is a unique and complex part of a huge project and we wanted to be sure we were engaging the top specialists in the area, as with all aspects of this job. "Designing tailor-made access systems is Tyne Gangway's day-to-day business so we had confidence that they would be able to bring this project to fruition."

Rigorous tests are currently being carried out on the first of the ladders at Tyne Gangway's Wallsend base. Pawan Jha, senior surveyor at Lloyds Register, was on Tyneside to certify the testing.

He said: "We are the classification society for aircraft carriers so our certificate will be required in order to conform with regulations. This is a significant moment in the development of this project."

Tyne Gangways was also one of the subcontractors on the Ark Royal, built at Swan Hunters during the 1980s, which has recently been decommissioned.

In fact, current joint managing director Graeme Robson's father was involved in building the Ark Royal at Swans, where he himself also worked.

"My father was one of the ship managers on the Ark Royal," said Mr Robson.

"It's sentimental, to be quite honest."

He and Ken McDonald took over Tyne Gangway a year ago, when they bought the business from Mr Wellington.

"It's great to have been selected to work on a project of such national significance," said Mr McDonald.

"This also contributes to a positive environment for trade within the region and points to the North East's continuing prominence as an international centre for the shipbuilding industries."

Tyne Gangway currently has a pounds 2m turnover and is aiming to increase he figure by 10% per annum over the next few years. It employs 20 people.

"We don't fluctuate an awful lot," said Mr Wellington, who will mark his 40th anniversary of working for Tyne Gangway in March next year.

"We have three apprentices, as we believe that's the best way to bring people on."

CAPTION(S):

BUILT ON TYNE HMS Ark Royal, leaves the River Tyne for the last time, passing South Shields TEAM BUILDING From left, Pawan Jha of Lloyds Register, Jim Weir of BAE Systems, Kevin Nergaard of Tyne Gangway, Gordon Ralph of BAE Systems and Ken McDonald, MD of Tyne Gangway
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2011
Words:791
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