By Martin Walker
A former World War II munitions factory will become a permanent memorial to the Aycliffe Angels as part of an exciting development which will create up to 20 new jobs.
Newton Aycliffe construction firm Finley Structures acquired the old Presswork Metals factory on Aycliffe Business Park more than two years ago.
Almost £600,000 has been spent on constructing a new 70,000 square foot facility on the site, which has stood empty for more than six years.
A further £300,000 is to be invested in the fit out of the facility, including a trampoline park, cafe, restaurant and bar, and the facility will also include one of the biggest climbing walls in the country, standing at 20 metres tall, while Rockantics are moving from the town centre to be incorporated into the project.
Now, as we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of hostilities, Finley Structures has revealed exciting plans which will help to preserve the building’s war-time history.
The family firm wants to name the complex ROF 59, standing for Royal Ordnance Factory 59 – the original name of the group of Aycliffe factories built in the 1940s.
The huge munitions factory employed some 17,000 workers, mostly women, between 1941 and 1945 and was an extremely important part of the country’s war effort.
The work was highly dangerous as the women filled bullets and bombs for the boys in the battlefield. There were a number of serious and fatal explosions, with eight women being killed in one blast.
Staff working at ROF 59 will wear overalls, like the Aycliffe Angels did when they risked their lives working there 70 years ago, while several other features will enable Aycliffe’s proud history of the munitions-making factories to live on.
Part of an old railway line, used to transport the munitions to the main railway line which was uncovered during foundation works, will be incorporated into other memorabilia features including a model spitfire and archive photographs from back in the day.
Managing Director Julie Finley said: “We recognise the important historical significance of the factory and the Aycliffe Angels who used to work there, so we have deliberately retained much of the original brickwork and signage within the building.
“The plan is to create a permanent memorial, and help us to keep educating young people about this important piece of British history.
“Aycliffe Business Park probably wouldn’t exist today without the Royal Ordnance Factories, and we feel it’s important to preserve that heritage for many years to come.”
Consultant Kim Fryer, of Newton Aycliffe-based KF Restaurant and Hospitality, has already been appointed by Finley Structures to manage the restaurant development, and the company is looking to recruit a bar manager, bar assistants, chefs, receptionists, cleaners and other members of staff in the coming weeks.
With over 20 years experience within the hospitality industry, Ms Fryer has a passion for quality food and service, having headed up the events team at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for a number of years before relocating from the Midlands to the North East to manage Auckland Castle.
“This is a fantastic project to work on and I’m delighted to be involved,” she said.
“It’s important that we keep our heritage alive and educate our young people to appreciate and understand what the previous generation did for this country.
“But it will also be an attraction to both families from all over the region looking for a good day out as well as local businesspeople looking to entertain guests.
“We’ll be using locally-sourced, fresh produce and we’ll have some quirky food and drinks menus to cater for everyone.”
Anyone who’d like more information about the jobs at ROF 59 can email [email protected]