A former World War II munitions factory was the venue for a debate on the EU referendum in Newton Aycliffe.
Businesses discussed the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the European Union at ROF 59 activity centre on Aycliffe Business Park, which was built to manufacture bombs and bullets for the war effort in the 1940s.
Teesside-based Andy Preston, a successful businessman and founder of the Middlesbrough & Teesside Philanthropic Foundation and CEO Sleepout charities, is an ambassador for the North East Britain Stronger IN Europe campaign.
He told guests why he thought staying in the EU is important to Newton Aycliffe.
Aycliffe Business Park is the largest industrial estate in the North-East, home to more than 300 businesses and more than 9,000 employees.
“If we leave Europe, we do not know what will happen,” said Preston. “We don’t know what the government will do and we don’t know what Europe will do.
“What we do know is that businesses are already seeing a slowdown, people are putting off making decisions, some projects are not happening. I’ve spoken to a couple of people here in Newton Aycliffe, and they’ve talked about projects that are on hold and might stall.
“I think what’s important is that we don’t panic everyone. There will be business and there will be opportunity and people will make a living.
“But, clearly, for some businesses it will be harder to export to the EU. That will mean less business coming into the park, it will mean fewer jobs and less prosperity.
“So I think it’s really clear that Aycliffe Business Park as a whole will do better if we stay in Europe.”
Among the guests was Finley Structures managing director John Finley, who built ROF 59 partly in homage to the Aycliffe Angels who worked at the munitions factories during the war, which included his mother and grandmother.
Finley said: “I don’t think people in Britain appreciate how well off we are.
“We’ve come a long, long way since the wars, and now I think we have a lot of wealth and opportunities, but there’s a real risk of losing that.
“Immigration does need controlling and I don’t think anyone is doubting that, but voting to leave the EU isn’t going to solve that problem – it’s a much more complex issue involving a number of factors, and I think on balance our best bet is to remain.”
The Aycliffe munitions factory made for a poignant venue during the EU debate ahead of next week’s referendum on Thursday June 23.
Preston added: “The history of where we are is really significant. I’m very proud to be British and I’m very proud of what Britain did in the second world war, which was stand up to dictators, to bullies, to threats to peace and prosperity.
“The world at the moment is a little bit frightening and uncertain. There are people being displaced because of war, famine and global warming. That’s going to continue, and in my opinion the movement of people around the world is only going to grow.
“Now is exactly when Britain should be showing some leadership and working with its neighbours, and saying to them ‘we’ve got to stick together and come up with a plan to sort our collective problems out’.
“The last thing we should do is lock the front door, shut the curtains and pretend it’s going to be fine if we ignore it, because it’s not.
“We’ve got some major challenges, and Britain needs to show some leadership, like we did during the second World War, sort out Europe’s problems and help to make the whole of Europe a better place.”