40 years of Nissan: Four decades on from the day the Japanese car giants chose Sunderland

The factory opened in 1986, two years after the deal was signed. Credit: ITV News

It has been 40 years since the decision was made to bring Nissan to Wearside: making Sunderland a giant in car manufacturing, and changing the course of the lives of local workers and the local economy.

A small team had worked on the project to secure Nissan for three years, successfully bringing the biggest foreign investment of its kind in the region.

The news came on 30 March 1984, in an early morning call to the offices of Washington Development Corporation. The call was answered by Ed Robson and quickly passed the news to Geoff Key, Ged Parker and the team who had worked for three years to attract Nissan.

It ended months of speculation, with Wearside, Wales and the then-named Humberside battling to be the chosen site.

Edwin Robson, former Chief Planning Officer, said: "We were being pursued by reporters saying have they made a decision, do you know? We didn't know. Everybody claimed to know, we didn't know, I wish we had it would have saved a lot of heartache."

Edwin Robson, Geoff Key and Ged Parker were part of the team who worked to attract Nissan. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ex-Sunderland Borough Council Chief Executive, Geoff Key said: "Tyne Tees and others were saying this is going to Wales. So I slept quite well, thinking that's it, I haven't got tomorrow to worry about, we've got a press conference, I'll just look miserable. But, thankfully, next day I get a phone call from Ed."

Mr Robson added that following the call: "It was yabba dabba doo!"

Charles Slater, the former leader of Sunderland Borough Council, announced the news that generations of industry on Wearside were about to changeOn 30th March 1984, he said: "It's a shot in the arm. It's a gesture of confidence in the North East, for too long, for too long the people south of the wash as it were have viewed this area as a backwater."

As Nissan executives flew in to Newcastle airport to confirm the deal, the news spread.Ged Parker, a former senior research officer at Washington Development Corporation, recalled the overwhelming confirmation that jobs and prosperity were on the horizon: "The talk in the pubs! A teacher friend told me, the headteacher had gone around every class and told them that Nissan were coming. It was just a buzz."

The announcement came with the promise of new jobs at the plant plus an estimated 4000 more in the local area as a knock-on effect. At the time, Wearside was an area where one in four men were unemployed.

In fact, in 1984, unemployment reached a peak of nearly 3.3 million people out of work.When Nissan first started to advertise roles in Sunderland, local job centres were reporting a flood of applications from as far away as Cornwall.

When the plant first opened, 470 people were employed. The number has now swelled to 6000 direct employees and around 30,000 more in the supply chain.

Pictures from our archive (inset) show how a field, tarmac and few sheds that would be transformed into UK's largest car plant. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The airfield that was commissioned to be transformed into the site looked incredibly different four decades ago. It would go on to, quite literally, change the landscape of Wearside.

It was two years until the factory opened and the first car to drive off the production line was a Bluebird.

It marked the start of an industry that has now supported many thousands of jobs, families and livelihoods in the region.

Bluebird was the first car off the production line in Sunderland. Credit: TWCMS/Sunderland Museum

The North East Chamber of Commerce reflected on the impact the site has made on the area. Chief Executive, John McCabe said: "Nissan being here in the North East has really shown what we're capable of as a region, we can build big industries, we can build supply chains around them, we can take big investment in our region and really develop a fantastic economy around that.

"So, Nissan has helped us really raise our aspirations and look to the future to see what can be possible for this fantastic region."

Gateshead College now trains 1,500 students on engineering and automotive courses in state-of-the-art facilities.

Last year, 100% of the students went on to work in the field or moved into further education."I feel confident that I can find work in this area and I can work around the same area, which means I don't have to relocate, which is better", students told ITV Tyne Tees.

"With Nissan and their giga-factories opening, I feel like there are loads of well-paid opportunities and jobs."

The principal of Gateshead College, David Alexander, said Nissan's presence in the region cannot be underestimated: "It's been a real success story for the North East and its impact on our local economy and the employment opportunities it's provided have been significant.

"So, as a college and as a sector we continue to invest heavily to make sure that people get the opportunity to take up those employments with Nissan and with the supply chain."

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