YOU wouldn’t know it was there.

Secreted away at the bottom of a hill and hidden behind a row of houses in Stanhope, County Durham, Cook Defence Systems carries a wonderful air of mystery.

But, for a company that supports Army operations, it’s perhaps not too surprising the firm is inconspicuous in its appearance.

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A trusted ally of the Ministry of Defence, the business makes tank tracks for various battleground vehicles.

Weardale’s most valued employer with more than 100 staff, it last week secured a £70m Government deal to supply tracks for the Challenger 2, Warrior and Scimitar tanks.

Standing at its entrance, you feel like you could be at any other engineering firm.

However, that perception quickly changes once you go past the gatehouse.

The sight of a tank, its camouflage a match for the surrounding autumnal colours, is more than enough of an indicator.

Inside Cook’s myriad of buildings, the traditions of manufacturing are played out.

Machines whir and hiss, robots spin and twist, and staff make sparks fly as they craft parts.

Another team oversee a huge furnace, where tonnes of molten steel is poured into moulds.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the first steps of how the company helps ensure British tanks stand up to the rigours of frontline combat.

But it isn’t just UK soldiers benefiting from Cook’s expertise.

The firm has a deal with the Kuwait Ministry of Defence to supply tracks for the British-made Warrior vehicle, and its tracks are used by armies in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Bosses are working with international defence contractors to develop track for new armoured carriers around the world and Stanhope also supplies digging tools for Caterpillar’s large mining and construction vehicles.

For Andrew Cook, the company’s chairman, the successes come from its procedures and work ethic, which instil quality and are driven into the firm’s DNA.

He said: “I’m proud of the company; I built it up almost from scratch.

“To me, the letters WC stand for world-class.

“I believe that’s what we are, and we can prove it to customers too.”

Mr Cook’s rousing message also includes the notion that persistence and determination alone are almighty.

For its Stanhope workforce, that motto has taken on extra meaning in recent years, after the factory endured lower demand and was the subject of a management buy-out, which saw the business leave Cook’s hands, only for it to return again when the market dipped.

In 1990, Cook took on George Blair and began building the foundry company’s Stanhope site.

Mr Cook said the decision, taken to strengthen the track industry, has been more than vindicated.

He said: “I bought it and thought ‘I’m going to build my tracks in Stanhope’.

“I felt it had the best work ethic.

“I’ve ploughed millions into the site and it has repaid handsomely.

“It is a centre of excellence and has enormous implications on the locality as the biggest employer in Weardale.”

However, in 2006, the company was subject to a management buyout, which saw its name change to Astrum.

But hopes of a bright long-term future were dashed by 2011, when Astrum, rocked by Ministry of Defence spending cuts and the effects of the economic downturn on the construction and mining industries, went into administration.

The business was rescued by the wider William Cook group, and Mr Cook says it has rebuilt itself ever since.

He said: “I had an offer and I sold it with a rather heavy heart.

“But, by 2011, I had bought it back, preserving jobs, track making and the supply chain.

“It had attempted to stave off collapse by eating tomorrow’s breakfast.

“At the time, these was no demand for making tracks because the Ministry of Defence was over-supported.

“We’ve kept it going and thus kept the supply chain going.

“I’m pleased it is back in full working order, particularly when you consider the perilous state of affairs in industry because steel is on its back, energy is on its back and oil is on its back.”

Although Cook’s tracks are designed for tanks capable of fighting enemies far and wide, the company retains a real sense of locality.

As Mr Cook notes, the firm relies on businesses in the region for parts and equipment to make its goods, right down to the nuts and bolts, with local steel used in its furnace.

For a company that proudly flies the union flag above its assortment of factory buildings, such a focus should come as no surprise.

But it does to others, and Mr Cook talks of how irked he becomes when people roll out the trite, and false, assumption that the UK doesn’t make anything anymore.

He said: “The UK has to keep it in the family.

“The closer you are to the coalface of life, the more it resonates with you.

“The metro-centric elite sometimes express surprise there is still a manufacturing industry in England.

“If your world revolves around Kensington or Chelsea, I suppose you don’t really appreciate that there is still a manufacturing sector in this country, but keeping it is essential.

“I can be at a posh cocktail party and someone will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we made anything anymore.’

“You almost get talked down to and I get annoyed by it.”

That notion of continued production could be prolonged at the Stanhope plant if a bid to make tracks for a new tank is secured.

The firm hopes to beat a rival to supply the Ajax vehicle, which will be built in Wales and Spain by General Dynamics.

Prime Minister David Cameron previously announced the UK will buy 589 Ajaxs, and prototype work is now being carried out.

Cook has designed a lightweight system it says could be used on the Ajax, which is being tested.

Mr Cook said: “The one big thing we have to win is the Ajax.

“We already have a track for it and are competing with a supplier.

“Our offering is superior, lighter and more durable, and when you consider the need to cut weight for transportation, our tracks can help get more troops on a plane.”

The commitment to expand the business also extends to its Stanhope plant.

Mr Cook says it is looking to create a further manufacturing area, while it also remains dedicated to adding to its apprentice scheme.

He added: “There is scope for more jobs here.

“We are planning a new factory building that will allow a more efficient use of storage space and will release manufacturing space.”

The company’s plans, and its history, certainly impressed Michael Fallon, who visited Cook’s factory to officially unveil its £70m deal.

The Defence Secretary and former Darlington MP was shown around the base, taking in the whole process required to make tracks.

Addressing gathered workers, he said: “I’ve always wondered what kept the Army on the move and it is you.

“There is no substitute for coming to a plant like this and seeing the nuts and bolts, the sprockets and the suspension cases being assembled on the shop floor, and seeing the secret ingredients of this remarkable story.

“That’s not just the persistence and determination, which is your motto, but the creativity and the science that goes in to maintaining the high quality that marks the moulding of these steel tracks.

“Precision engineering is every bit as ingenuous and involves as much brain power as teams designing a satellite or any part of the so-called newer technologies.

“It is thanks to you here that we have critical battle-winning systems that enable Challenger, Warrior and Scimitar tanks to carry vast loads and additional protection that keep our servicemen and women safe.”