Going Full Circle…

In this blog post Dr Steve Wright, Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics, reflects on his long-term and varied engagement with the arms industry.


Half a century ago, believe it or not, I used to work in an arms factory. It wasn’t just any arms factory but the famous Vickers-Armstrongs on the banks of the Tyne, in Newcastle, seen by many as the original template for factories mass producing weapons, from 1842 .

Lord Armstrong was an entrepreneur inventing hydraulic cranes to power the business of mass producing large guns and tanks. His German style chateau, Cragside in Northumberland, entertained other arms dealers like Krupps in style – it was the first building on Earth to have electric light – pioneered by the first lightbulbs manufactured just up the Road by Swann, The factory is part of Geordie legend featuring in the 1862 Anthem of Tyneside, ‘the Blaydon Races‘.

Last month I went back. Actually during my time there, I was just a kid, and no; I wasn’t a junior arms dealer! My original job was rising at dawn and selling morning papers to the wraith like assembly workers, making tanks. For them it was hard, dirty engineering work. And thirsty – there were more pubs along the Scotswood road then anywhere else in Geordie land.

5 decades later, I am attending a briefing by Pearson Engineering. Two years ago because of a loss of MoD contracts, the then BAe systems owned factory went bust. Then in August 2015 there was a phoenix-like resurrection of tracked vehicle fitting out on the banks of the Tyne. This time the factory is ultra-clean, machine tooled production, high precision assembly by the Reece Group of companies. It is a much smaller  workforce of  over 100 a far cry from the 25,000 people who worked there at its peak. Indeed, almost everyone I spoke to on my journey to the factory had a close relative who used to work there.


Courtesy of The Chronicle

Nowadays, the markets for this kind of arms production are seen as very volatile. My interest is in the impact of the associated sub-component business on the North East economy. Was this the answer to the Government’s claim to be building new Northern Powerhouses?

Sadly not. Coinciding with the rebirth of the Armstrongs site was the demise of the Five Quarter energy Plan which would have created over 500 new jobs in the region which had been promised government support to produce cheap energy. But the government subsequently welshed on the deal.

How different the North would look if government investment and industrial support in the South was matched pound for pound in the North. What is really needed is a new form of Marshall plan to finance, train and reinvigorate Northern Industries and not just ones working in the defence and security sectors. The same engineers making tanks have vast experience in marine engineering and are situated in a region which has the densest concentration of wind energy in the UK.

So much could be achieved If only we had more joined up thinking and political leaders with vision and ambition.



F= the Festival of the Body!

Guest Post from Natalia Gerodetti, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and member of the Global Inequalities Research Group.

March 8th has come to mark international women’s day and is celebrated globally many years after its origins in the early 20th century and still making claims for persistent inequalities, new forms of injustice and discrimination as well as celebrating the many achievements there have been in relation to women’s social, cultural and political roles and positions.

In 1908 a day was held to remember a strike of a Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in New York, organised by the Socialist Party of America but by 1911 over a million people marked it in various countries. Since 1996 – and perhaps against a background of gender mainstreaming – the UN provides themes for each year with 2016 being the year to ‘Make It Happen’.

So there you go – make it happen with our local Leeds events!  The Festival of the Body will celebrate International Women’s day with a month long programme of events at Leeds Central Library, including art exhibitions, performances and talks.  There are also interactive sessions.

The Festival of the Body is organised by F= an interdisciplinary research group at Leeds Beckett University.

Find out more and get involved at http://www.fequals.co.uk.


Dr Gerodetti’s research focuses on historical approaches to the social and spatial politics of gender and sexuality in the context of law and social policy. She has an interest in the relationship of the past to the present in terms of social justice.  More recently her research interests focus around space, migration and identity both in relation to historical governance of gender and sexuality but also in relation to contemporary aspects around food production, sustainability and belonging. Her most recent publication with Dr Sally Foster “Growing foods from home: food production, migrants and the changing cultural landscapes of gardens and allotments” was published in Landscape Research in October 2015.