‘I want shipbuilding back on Tyne again’: Hebburn man’s quest to restore trade

Derek Wilson has started an online petition to create more shipbuilding opportunities on the River Tyne.
Derek Wilson has started an online petition to create more shipbuilding opportunities on the River Tyne.

A Hebburn man has started a bid to restore his town’s rich shipbuilding history.

Derek Wilson has launched an online petition calling on the Ministry of Defence to split its contracts between the Clyde and the Tyne,

There is an abundance of shipbuilding ability going to waste in the Tyneside area, we have the facilities, we have a ready and willing workforce that would jump at the chance of helping to bolster the UK’s defence capabilities by building warships on the Tyne once again.

Derek Wilson

The 41-year-old pipe fitter says that all the work is being given to contractors in Scotland, while companies along the Tyne are more than capable of doing the job.

The dad-of-one, who was working offshore until the work shut down in October, posted on the page: “There is an abundance of shipbuilding ability going to waste in the Tyneside area, we have the facilities, we have a ready and willing workforce that would jump at the chance of helping to bolster the UK’s defence capabilities by building warships on the Tyne once again.

“Don’t let the Tyne shipbuilding industry die, we are the northern powerhouse, utilise us and give us the opportunity to deliver to the navy a new fleet of warships built on time and to the highest standards of workmanship that will be required by the country’s best shipbuilders. Please sign this petition and bring shipbuilding back to the Tyne.”

Mr Wilson says that Tyneside has a “rich history” of shipbuilding and that his dad, also named Derek, worked as a mechanical fitter in shipyards until he retired.

He said: “We’ve got a rich history of shipbuilding here in South Tyneside but it’s slipping away and nobody is shouting about it. It just needs a bit of investment.

“We’ve been building ships on the Tyne now since 1294 – we built a galley for the King’s fleet. Since the 19th century we’ve used steel, we even pioneered the first rolled armour plates for our battleships in 1884.

“But now it seems the North has been completely forgotten about.

“Why send all of the work to the Clyde? We can build these ships that the MoD require to at least as good a standard that our friends over the border can, give us the chance.”

Mr Wilson launched the petition last week, and already more than 600 people have signed.

If it gets 10,000 signatures, government will respond to it and if it is signed by 100,000 people, the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.

He said: “The problem is that this is a very regional thing and we need to get the plight to other people out there.

“The petition has only been up for a few days and you can see that people from across the country are signing it, so word is getting out and hopefully more people will get behind it.”

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn backed the petition.

He said: “I certainly support the petition. This area has a proud tradition of shipbuilding and this region with its history should not be left behind. I urge people to sign the petition.”

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck also spoke of the borough’s shipbuilding heritage.

She said: “There has always been a proud tradition of shipbuilding on the Tyne, in recent decades this has seen a dramatic decline. What has not declined though is the work ethic and skill of the workforce here in South Tyneside.

“Coming from a very proud tradition of shipyard workers I would be delighted to see a thriving shipbuilding community on our river again and I am happy to support this petition.”