An innovative partnership between two of the North East’s most recognisable brands has reaped a number of benefits for visitors to the region.

AkzoNobel Ashington joined forces with Northumberland National Park in 2018 to deliver a series of volunteer-led projects to drive improvements across the Park ahead of the busy tourist season.

Work carried out by AkzoNobel employees, supported by the National Park ranger teams includes vital restoration work on the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail and the boundary cairns which mark the perimeter of the National Park. Volunteers also carried out general painting and maintenance work at popular tourist hotspots, including National Lottery funded The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre.

As the partnership draws to a close, both parties have been reflecting on the successful outcomes of the past 12 months.

“Every year, employees at AkzoNobel Ashington are asked to nominate a local organisation to name as the site’s Community Partner of the Year,” said Jeff Hope, head of manufacturing unit at AkzoNobel Ashington.

“In previous years, we have used this platform to raise awareness for small, independent charities but last year, we shifted the focus of this to combine our community-orientated activities together with the wider cultural and environmental values of the business.

“Operating our manufacturing units as sustainably as we can in order to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve the planet is a key priority for AkzoNobel on a global scale. Our partnership with Northumberland National Park Authority has enabled us to take this one step further on a local level to give something back to our natural environment which adds benefit for tourists to the region, but has the added bonus of encouraging our workforce and their families to get out exploring the fantastic landscape we have on our doorstep.”

The restoration of the National Park’s boundary cairns was one of the first projects that the team of AkzoNobel volunteers got involved with.

Installed in the 1950s, the boundary cairns feature the National Park’s iconic curlew logo and can be spotted at roadsides across Northumberland to let visitors know they are entering one of the country’s finest landscapes.

Exposure to the elements had taken its toll on the cairns’ paintwork, with many of the markers lost completely to overgrown thickets and hedges. The teams of volunteers were able to clear the areas surrounding each boundary cairn and then rejuvenate the paintwork using AkzoNobel’s own specialist Dulux Metalshield paints to ensure their longevity.

“The boundary cairns are often the first thing visitors see of the National Park so it is wonderful to see them restored to their former glory,” said Dave Richardson, volunteer and apprenticeships development officer at Northumberland National Park Authority.

“When we developed the activity programme for AkzoNobel, we identified a number of projects centred around painting and decorating in order to play to the volunteers’ strengths and interests. The boundary cairn project along with the rejuvenation of a number of key amenities at visitor locations across the Park have been a huge success and were well received by National Park staff and tourists alike.”

Another key project that AkzoNobel staff got involved with during the summer months was a restoration project on the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail Path.

Spanning the length of the wall from Bowness-on-Solway in the West to Wallsend in the East with a popular section situated within the National Park designation, the National Trail is used by tens of thousands of visitors to the region each year who come to explore Northumberland’s Roman roots.

Supported by the ranger team and specialists from the National Park, AkzoNobel volunteers helped to clear some of the vegetation along the trail to improve access for visitors and also relay some of the stones in the more well-trodden areas.

“The volunteers worked exceptionally hard on this project,” Dave Richardson added.

“Some of the work carried out along the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail was very labour intensive and would have taken our staff alone a long time to complete. We are incredibly grateful to the AkzoNobel volunteers for giving up their time to help us preserve this regional treasure so more people can come and enjoy a walk along the wall.”

“We have thoroughly enjoyed our time working alongside Northumberland National Park,” Jeff Hope concluded.

“From a cultural perspective, the project has enabled our staff to broaden their horizons and apply their skills to a new working environment which has had significant benefits for all involved.”

AkzoNobel is the world’s leading producer of decorative paints and coatings. Famous for its household brands such as Dulux, Polycell and Hammerite, the company’s Ashington site is capable of producing paint in up to 33,000 different colours.