Formica moves on with £40m investment at North Shields site

Work to improve an international firm’s European headquarters in North Shields are taking shape.

The doors have opened to Formica’s new-look offices at the North Shields factory.

Peter Rush, president of Formica Group Europe at the opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Peter Rush, president of Formica Group Europe at the opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields. Picture by Jane Coltman

Office staff moved back to the site on Norham Road from their previous base on Cobalt Business Park in April – ten years after previously moving out.

It is part of a £40m investment by Fletcher Building over the next three years at the laminate making plant.

New buildings and machinery are top of the list as Formica looks to build on its reputation in the UK, which could lead to more jobs being created.

A special event was held on Tuesday for investors, customers and interested parties to see the work ongoing and a tour of the facilities.

The opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

The opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields. Picture by Jane Coltman

Peter Rush, president of Formica Group Europe, said: “This is very much a celebration for us.

“We moved to Cobalt in 2008 and at the time it looked a good decision but on reflection what that did was take part of the business away from the key thing we do here.

“We make laminate and sell it. By moving some staff away, we got disconnected. The fact we’re all back here is a huge step forward.

“The people in the office and those on the shop floor are all connected again. They all feel part of the business.”

Guests at the opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Guests at the opening of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields. Picture by Jane Coltman

He added: “Our main market is in the UK and although we have lost a share in that market, we are fighting very hard to get it back.

“Fletcher Building is a great parent company to help us do that. They are investing £40m over the next three years.

“The Formica brand is the only global laminate brand.

“We’re driving hard with the brand.”

Dave Christensen, engineering stores manager of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Dave Christensen, engineering stores manager of European Formica Group HQ at North Shields. Picture by Jane Coltman

Mr Rush said there would be more emphasis on putting the customer first, following the likes of John Lewis.

“Whatever we are doing and how we interact with the customer is key,” he said.

Parts of the plant date back to 1945 when the factory was built, and Formica are looking to move equipment and facilities into the newer buildings.

Formica Group, which employs more than 300 people, produces thousands of different laminate sheets for doors in businesses, schools and hospitals around Europe.

Their latest big seller is a fingerprint resistant product Formica Infiniti, which is proving popular in additional commercial environments such as offices, and hospitality and retail.

Mr Rush said there were no fears over a potential negative impact from Brexit, saying the value of the Pound against the Euro was helping them.

“Since the referendum, we are more competitive,” he said. “We are in a good place against our competitors.

“This is our European headquarters, we are not planning on moving it anywhere else.” Staff at Formica have also welcomed the investment and bringing all staff under one roof.

Dave Christensen, engineering stores manager, has worked at the site for 38 years.

He said: “I’ve seen a lot of changes to the building over the years. Everyone is happy, it’s a huge improvement.

“I’m old fashioned so believe in talking to people rather than sending an e-mail so it’s great having all staff here.

“My father and uncles worked here for over 25 years each, it’s a very family orientated business. I think they would like the changes.

“How many businesses are still going after starting in the 1940s?

“I’ve known many owners over the years and we’ve now got the best one in Fletcher Building who are spending the money the business needs.”

Labour’s Alan Campbell was one of those given a tour of the facilities.

He said: “I think it’s great.

“Formica is not just a global brand it is part of the fabric of people’s lives and has been around for a long time.

“It is a major employer here and it is fantastic for the area to have another European headquarters here, and one carrying out major investment.

“There are some really exciting things happening in North Tyneside and it’s great to see Formica are a key player in that.”