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Viewpoint: Time to remember

We should celebrate our greatness, says ICE North East regional director Stephen Larkin

Marking significant anniversaries helps build relationships, stimulate interest in the profession and highlight the importance of infrastructure to our daily existence.

This year has been a significant one for the ICE in the North East. The 12 October saw the 150th anniversary of civil engineering and locomotive pioneer Robert Stephenson − president of the Institution from 1855 to 1857.

As a region, we decided early on to take a lead in commemorating this significant anniversary and in celebrating the life and works of the world’s greatest ever civil engineer and Tyneside’s most famous son.

“We decided early on to take a lead in commemorating this significant anniversary and in celebrating the life and works of the world’s greatest ever civil engineer.”

To date, thousands of people have attended the series of lectures, exhibitions, guided walks and film nights. We produced a limited edition RS150 commemorative cover and a Northumbria Trail Leaflet detailing sites and locations associated with his work, which people can visit to learn how he helped to shape the world around us.

A joint Bridges to Schools event, in partnership with ICE Scotland, was held at Longridge Towers School. It saw 300 pupils exposed to the benefits of a career in civil engineering.

Our newly formed heritage expert panel hosted the 2009 Panel for Historical Engineering Works annual general meeting. This included a civic reception, hosted by the city’s Lord Mayor, and an evening lecture entitled Robert Stephenson the Eminent Engineer, presented by author Michael Bailey, which attracted an audience of 120.

To mark the anniversary itself, a wreath was laid at the Stephenson monument in Newcastle with a second being taken on the East Coast Main Line to a service at Westminster Abbey in London, where Stephenson is buried. These events were filmed by the BBC and Channel 4.

“The Stephenson anniversary has presented a great opportunity to raise the profile of civil engineering and highlight the importance of infrastructure.”

The Stephenson anniversary has presented a great opportunity to raise the profile of civil engineering and highlight the importance of infrastructure across the region. Stephenson’s central station, high level bridge in Newcastle and royal border bridge in Berwick upon Tweed are still in use more than 150 years after they were conceived − reinforcing the need to invest wisely in the construction of new projects and the maintenance of existing assets.

The success of this initiative demonstrates the importance of marking significant anniversaries and adopting a partnership approach between ICE members and staff and those from other organisations.

Our most successful events are always led by volunteers from across the ICE North East’s membership. Next year sees the 160th anniversary of the royal border bridge in Berwick upon Tweed and 2011, the centenary of the Middlesbrough transporter bridge. Both are significant anniversaries that we can use as vehicles to strengthen these partnerships and raise the profile of civil engineers.

Hopefully, more modern icons of the North East such as the Millennium Bridge on the Tyne and the Infinity Bridge on the Tees will continue to fire the imagination, lasting long enough to see their own significant anniversaries for future members of the Institution to celebrate.

  • Stephen Larkin is ICE North East regional director

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