Death knell sounds for glass

The death knell sounded for centuries of glass manufacturing on Wearside yesterday when French company ARC announced the closure of its factory.

The death knell sounded for centuries of glass manufacturing on Wearside yesterday when French company ARC announced the closure of its factory.

The closure of the ARC facility on Leopold Street in the Deptford area of Sunderland has shattered hopes of a revival of an industry which has been part of the city's life for 1,300 years.

A total of 240 workers will lose their jobs when ARC - formerly Newells - closes its factory in September this year. A programme to find new jobs for them has already begun.

ARC will retain just 25 staff to distribute its products from the factory's warehouse. The only other glass manufacturing left in the city is in the artistic and creative glass sector through the National Glass Centre and the Cohesion Glassworkers network.

The Arc International Cookware (AIC) factory has only been operating at 75% capacity in recent months and made a loss of £760,000 in 2006. Production of Pyrex products will now continue in ARC's plants in Châteauroux and Arques in France. The French company said the Sunderland plant could not continue when raw materials were much more expensive here than on the continent, and energy prices have doubled in the last four years.

Francisco Azcona, general manager of AIC, said: "The decision is based solely on the continuing adverse situation in our plant and in no way reflects on the performance of the employees. We must now do everything we can to help them in this transition period. I would like once again to express my gratitude for all their efforts."

Mick Thurlbeck, Sunderland committee chairman for the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: "Sunderland is glass and glass is Sunderland. I don't believe that as a city, and as a business community, we have done enough to keep Arc here.

"Who can make glass better than in a city where it has been made for 1,300 years? It's all about quality, and Sunderland is world renowned for the quality of its glass, but people are buying inferior quality from elsewhere."

David Workman, director general of industry body the British Glass Manufacturers Confederation, said: "This is a very sad day, first of all for the employees of ARC, but it's also another nail in the coffin of the glass industry in the UK. This announcement has come as a bit of a surprise, however, as energy costs this year are likely to come back from the peaks of the last couple of years."

Chris Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South, where the factory stands, said: "This is a very sad day. I'm dismayed. We've lost a huge number of manufacturing jobs and I fear it is part of a trend that is unstoppable."

Janet Snaith, head of business and investment at Sunderland City Council, said: "The city council and the other agencies, One NorthEast, Job Centre Plus and the council's own Job Linkage Service will be doing their utmost to help all those affected by the closure."

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History dating back 1,300 years

Glass manufacturing in Sunderland has a history dating back more than 1,300 years.

The first glass was manufactured around AD674 when St Benet Biscop required windows for Monkwearmouth monastery.

In the last two centuries both Sunderland and Newcastle have been known for their glass, with Sunderland coming to the fore in later years.

Alex Thirlaway, assistant keeper of decorative art for Tyne & Wear Museums, said: "The best glass came from the North-East. Sunderland manufacturers originally set up in competition with those from Newcastle.

"They are known to have been seen as the best in the Regency period, making table services for the Marquis of Londonderry and the Duke of Northumberland."

There has been glass manufacturing on the Deptford site where the Corning and ARC factories stand today since the middle of the 19th Century. Mr Thirlaway said what was known as the Wear Flint Glass Works, was then bought out by a man called Henry Greener, then James A Jobling, and more recently Newell and Corning, before Arc took over Newells last year.

He said: "The industry grew up around two other great industries - coal and shipping. Fine sand was brought from the low countries and Norfolk as ballast in ships, and coal was on hand locally to fire the furnaces."

Corning announced last October it was closing its glass blowing factory and this week it confirmed it had handed our redundancy notices to the 100 staff before shutting down on March 31. With ARC to close by the end of September, glass manufacturing in Sunderland will be dead.

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