A WORLD famous bridge building company has won a £35m contract that will help transform lives on a tropical island and secure the firm's future for years.

Cleveland Bridge in Darlington has signed a deal with the government of Sri Lanka to make up to 210 bridges for jungle and rural areas across the country.

The ambitious three year project will help isolated communities access better education, healthcare and jobs by replacing flimsy rope bridges, which are often washed away in the rainy season, with permanent modern structures made of steel and concrete.

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Bosses at Cleveland Bridge are delighted to have finally tied up the order which hit funding problems after it was agreed in September 2011. Support from the Government's Export Credit Guarantee Department helped to seal the deal that continues the Darlington firm's 136-year history of making bridges all over the globe.

Cleveland Bridge was involved in the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Australia, and Victoria Falls Bridge, which spans the River Zambesi in southern Africa, as well as bridges that cross the Tees and the Tyne.

In 1911 the firm designed the iconic Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough.

The latest contract, which follows a recent contract to build the new Forth Road Bridge in Scotland, is expected to secure the future of Cleveland Bridge's 260 workers for the next three years.

In July, the first shipments of steel sections designed and built at the firm's Yarm Road factory will be shipped to the country nicknamed the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The 3,500 tonnes of steel are being provided by Tata in Teesside and Scunthorpe.

A team of experts from Cleveland Bridge will fly to Sri Lanka this summer to assist local engineers.

Monthly deliveries will continue for about a year, with on-site bridge erection due to be completed in 2016.

Andy Hall, Cleveland Bridge’s general manager, said: "We are very happy to be able to offer our experience, technical expertise and high quality product to help link rural communities in Sri Lanka with the rest of the country."

The Sri Lankan economy, famed for its exports of tea and textiles, showed a healthy growth rate of 6.4 per cent last year, but there are huge inequalities between people in affluent cities such as Colombo with those in hard-to-reach rural villages. The Darlington firm will help to bridge the income gap.

British High Commissioner, John Rankin, praised Cleveland Bridge and said the deal was “a great example of collaboration across the Commonwealth and will ultimately help increase mobility for Sri Lanka's rural population and enable them to enhance their standard of living."

SINCE being founded in Darlington in 1837 Cleveland Bridge has built some of the world's most iconic structures.

Its role in the design and construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Victoria Falls Railway Bridge earned it worldwide acclaim.

It has worked on everything from the Thames Barrier and Hong Kong's Tsing Ma suspension bridge to sports grounds such as Twickenham and the new Wembley Stadium.

Examples of its work in the North-East include the Infinity and Surtees bridges in Stockton, the Tyne Metro Bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead and the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge.