The legend “made on Teesside” has a long and proud history, with everything from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Quorn in vegan sausage rolls manufactured in this industrial part of north-east England.
Now, people in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, say they are “buzzing” to learn the town will play a key role in the fight against Covid-19 after the government announced 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine would be made there later this year.
The vaccine, which will be manufactured at sites around the world including by Fujifilm Diosynth in the UK, passed its third and final stage of clinical trials this week. Results showed the vaccine offers 89% protection against Covid-19, and it should soon be given the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
There was much excitement on Teesside at the region making the news for industrial triumph rather than decline. Billingham-born Paul Smith, the singer of Maxïmo Park, last year filmed a video in his home town for their single Child of the Flatlands, which references growing up “where industrial tunnels were our fairytale castles”.
Two local women approached him to ask why they were filming, he said: “We were outside the old, demolished Billingham Synthonia football club ground, because the song is about looking back at my childhood, including the ‘edgelands’ where industry meets nature. The two women said, ‘That’s where the vaccine is being made,’ pointing at a building opposite us. This was long before a vaccine even felt possible, and I’d completely forgotten about it until I watched the news last night! It’s a nice boost for the area to feel like it’s part of the collective effort to bring the virus under control.”
The Stockton North MP, Alex Cunningham, said he was not aware that Fujifilm was working on a Covid vaccine project, so it was a “lovely surprise” to hear the news on Thursday night. “I was absolutely elated,” he said.
He visited a vaccine centre on Friday morning, a mile from where the vaccine will be manufactured. “I was talking to the staff at the clinic and everybody is buzzing that this is actually happening,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to mean in terms of jobs, because they will be manufacturing on the existing plant there, but the bottom line of all this is people are very proud of what is achieved on Teesside.”
Too often the region has made the news because of industrial decline rather than invention, said Cunningham: “There’s been too many stories of late of lost jobs in the Tees Valley. There’s been something like 12,500 jobs lost since the beginning of March last year with the pandemic. So anything which strengthens our industrial base like this is tremendously good news.”
Bob Cook, the Labour leader of Stockton council, said it was one of the best days in his 33 years as a councillor: “It’s bound to be a very proud day because the world needs this vaccine after what has been the most awful year that anybody can remember.”
Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley, said: “This is a significant announcement that everyone in Teesside should be proud of, as we are at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to get life back to normal and protect us all.”
Teesside has a long industrial past. Once a global centre of steel production, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was made in Middlesbrough. With the closure of the Redcar steel plant in 2015, the area is now better known for its petrochemicals, energy, bio-resources and advanced manufacturing industries. The Belasis business park, where the Novavax vaccine will be manufactured, is also home to the world’s biggest meat alternative production facility. The Quorn Foods site can produce 1.33m packs of Quorn products a week, equivalent to the meat produced by 1,600 cows.