Continuously evolving, while developing and caring for its local workforce is secret to Gestamp Tallent’s success on Aycliffe Business Park…
BY SARAH WALKER
It all started in April 1948, when Roy Tallent set up a business on the site of a World War II munitions factory, producing fancy goods like lipstick and cigarette cases from unused ammunition made by the famous Aycliffe Angels.
Fast forward 75 years and what we now know as Gestamp Tallent is a global leader in chassis and components manufacturing, for big names like Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Nissan, Volvo, BMW and Volkswagen.
However, despite significant successes through a journey of evolution that still continues well into its eighth decade, subsequent plant managers at Aycliffe’s biggest employer have never lost sight of the company’s heritage.
This pride in what started with the Aycliffe Angels heroic efforts during World War II is most evident in the Tallent name still being used by the business – but that’s not all.
If you visited its seven factories, as well as the 4,000 tonne transfer presses and 5,000 tonne hydroform lines which create metal parts and components for today’s most popular cars, you would find examples of those lipstick, cigarette and powder cases, carefully preserved for posterity.
Jonathan Phillips, plant director, says: “There’s a very interesting history associated with what was Tallent.
“We still have examples of those early products and we’re looking forward to celebrating 75 years in Aycliffe and highlighting where it all started.
“We will have a history week and other events to reference our heritage, which is fundamentally based around the Aycliffe Angels and what they did in the war effort – we don’t want to lose sight of that.”
In 1955, Tallent’s company was sold to the Colston Group, with the factory producing domestic appliances, gas fire cases and paraffin heaters.
Jonathan says: “One of the heaters made here in the plant is now in the V&A museum.
“It won an industrial design award and used to sell for eight pounds and 18 shillings.
“It was popular in Japan because of a special feature that allowed it to be used for cooking with a wok.”
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the company moved into producing parts for the automotive industry.
A management buyout in the late 1980s saw three directors devise a strategy to supply products for car chassis and in 1992, the company was bought by the German steel group Thyssen AG.
Thyssen AG merged with Krupp in 2001 creating ThyssenKrupp.
In July 2011 ThyssenKrupp sold its interest in Tallent, and Spanish automotive supplier Gestamp bought not only the Aycliffe site but also the ThyssenKrupp European metal forming operations.
“The first automotive products we started to manufacture were for the Ford Sierra,” Jonathan says.
“Today, we supply every OEM (car parts for large manufacturers) almost globally.
“We’ve gone from that small engineering company to a business that employees more than 1,000 people on our site.”
Today, Gestamp Tallent also has the largest number of robots on site outside any OEM, as well as a global design centre, designing and developing chassis which are manufactured all over the world.
About 60 to 70 per cent of products manufactured at the site are exported to mainland Europe, the US and China.
But while the firm is clearly proud of these achievements, as well as its heritage, Gestamp Tallent also has its eyes set firmly on the future.
As one of the founding members of the UTC South Durham, it continues to have a trustee role at the college.
The firm also has 40 apprentices on site in Aycliffe and is proud that its apprenticeship programme has produced many talented professionals, including the current engineering director.
“The business continues to support the growth and the nurturing of the next generation of talent in terms of engineering, manufacturing and STEM,” says Jonathan.
“Our apprenticeship programme helps us to identify, nurture and grow the next generation of talent, who we try to progress through the organisation.”
The business is also a proud employer of local people, with 85 per cent of the workforce living within five miles of the plant.
These staff are well supported by the organisation, with trained mental health first aiders and a health and wellbeing lead supporting staff.
A new staff health and wellbeing centre is also in the pipeline, while family events such as a recent pantomime also enable staff to enjoy treats for their families free of charge.
The firm also has a charity committee that supports local good causes that are often close to their employees’ hearts.
And this commitment to improving the lives of the local workforce and the wider community has undoubtedly contributed to 75 years of success for the business.
Jonathan says: “We are truly global in terms of what we produce, but truly local in terms of the demographic of our workforce.
“Our core business is manufacturing products out of metal and shipping them to customers, but we do it with compassion, integrity and empathy towards the needs of our employees.”
This makes Gestamp Tallent an employer of choice, as well as a respected part of the local community.
The firm has regular open market days showcasing the skills and capabilities of its staff and hopes to open a new reception centre to showcase its design and manufacturing capabilities.
Gestamp Tallent is hopeful that in the next 75 years, it can sustain its position as a global leader in car parts manufacturing, whilst also developing new, more efficient ways of working, embracing new technology and becoming more environmentally sustainable.
Jonathan says: “It’s a challenge, but we continue to win the work that will allow us to sustain our position and our size.”