The Gateshead/Komatsu City Youth Exchange Programme was created in 1991 to bring the young people of both cities together in a two-week long exchange, to experience each other’s education, culture, heritage, food and language.
Now in its 26th year, the programme saw eight students aged 13-16 given a warm North Eastern welcome before an in-depth tour of the Birtley excavator manufacturer, that proudly bears their city’s name.
Peter Howe, the Managing Director at Komatsu, said: “When Komatsu first arrived in this region, it was afforded a warm welcome by Gateshead Council, which supported the company’s effort to find a location and worked very quickly to help the firm recruit the staff required to create the foundations of Komatsu UK.
“That relationship between Gateshead and Komatsu City endures and it is our pleasure to welcome these young guests and demonstrate how the techniques developed on their doorstep have helped shape a factory and even an industry.”
Councillor Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council, said: “The programme is built on a friendship that developed out of a professional relationship, and is designed to promote international understanding among the students of both countries.”
He added: “We have built on this mutually beneficial relationship between the young people of both of our cities, and encourage the educational and social benefits for the students. As the exchange programme runs over a two-year period, next summer the Gateshead students will travel to Komatsu, where they’ll meet the Mayor of Komatsu City and take part in a range of educational and cultural experiences – including a traditional tea ceremony.”
By the time HRH Charles Prince of Wales officially opened the Birtley Komatsu UK factory in 1987, strong links had already been forged between Gateshead and Komatsu City. Since then, the relationship has grown and led to the UK borough and Japanese city being twinned in 1991.
Councillor Gannon said: “Town twinning is really important to Gateshead, it demonstrates the extent of the borough’s international links and it brings great benefits to people of all ages within the town. The Youth Exchange Programme is just one of the many wonderful opportunities on offer because of our twinning with Komatsu City.
“Komatsu’s presence is felt throughout Gateshead – it has brought with it new jobs, exciting opportunities and new cultural practices. Along with a Japanese friendship garden in Saltwell Park, there is also a Japanese Festival Tapestry and Tile Mural created in joint projects with Japanese artists - the cultural presence is now a prominent part of Gateshead.”
Peter Howe added: “When Komatsu first came to the North East, it was at the forefront of the creation of a whole new industry in the area, focused on automotive and construction equipment manufacturing. Importantly, it also established a range of Japanese practices that were mostly unheard of in UK plants.
“Komatsu helped redefine modern manufacturing in the North East. It continues to deliver the highest quality excavators and provide excellent employment opportunities throughout the region.”
Thirty years on, the firm remains at the forefront of manufacturing excellence and now employs more than 400 people in Gateshead. Testament to the company’s reputation as an excellent employer, 12 percent of the company’s current employees are celebrating their 30th year of service at Komatsu.