A FORMER SSI employee who spent half a century working in Steel House says the Redcar Steelworks redevelopment plans are a “wonderful prospect” for the region.

John Baker, who worked at Steel House for 50 years, used to have an office on the fifth floor – now one of the most damaged areas.

The Northern Echo:

More than five years after being left to rot, the former headquarters of steelworking in Teesside has been frozen in time.

Once home to British Steel’s Teesside headquarters, Steel House has been left almost untouched since workers walked out for the last time.

Empty coffee cups, rubbish and even a discarded shoe are among the items left to rot in the building, which is now mould-ridden and damp, with water having caused significant damage to the upper floors of the building.

Reminiscing about his time there, Mr Baker said: “The last time I worked in Steel House was in December 2015, shortly after the works were closed down.

“For me it has so many memories, not all good.

The Northern Echo:

“It was a happy place in the most. In 1977 when it opened it was an exciting time in Teesside because the Redcar site was being developed.

“At its peak there were 700 or 800 people in the office so it was a bustling place. It was exciting.

“At the time it wasn’t the most beautiful looking building - it was like marmite, you loved it or hated it.

“There was a bank and a shop that sold general things.

“We had a huge catering facility and areas that had the capacity for dances and concerts. It was a big space for events.

“It was a great building and had a lot going on.”

This week, workers have started the mammoth task of bringing to building back into use.

The Northern Echo:

It will eventually be the headquarters of Teesworks, though it is expected it will take about 18 months to realise.

Inside Steel House, there is a calendar still on the page of October 2015 – the last time it was occupied.

The Northern Echo:

Worker Jamie Haley, 25, from Redcar, said: “We’ve started by clearing the rubbish from when it was abandoned.

“We’ve just been going through and clearing the ground floor to start with so we can have somewhere on site to sit and eat.

“There’s a lot of history stuck in this building. We didn’t know what to expect when we came in. We didn’t expect it to be so full.

“My partner’s granddad worked here and I found some files he worked on that I had a flick through. It’s fascinating.”

He added: “I’ve passed this building all the time – you can see it from all over. I know so many people who have worked in this building. It’s notorious.

He added: “I’m hoping it going to create a lot of jobs and my friends will be able to get jobs here.

The Northern Echo:

The 25-year-old has struggled to find work since the start of the pandemic. He added: “It’s good to get back into work. I didn’t hear about a lot of stuff and there were a lot of lads from Redcar applying for everything.

“It feels good to be back in work and be back grafting.”

The building opened in 1978 and the inside was last seen by the public in September 2015, when it was used for a press conference to announce the mothballing of the SSI site.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen described the building as “iconic” but said there were also commercial reasons for bringing it back into use.

The full cost of the project is not yet known – but Mr Houchen said it was “worth spending money on.

He added: “It’s going to be expensive to renovate but we will make money on it.

The Northern Echo:

In 2015 the staff were told to get up and leave. You can still see coats on the backs of chairs and tea cups.

“It’s sad to see but that’s why we need to bring it back to life.

“ It does have an eerie feel but we don’t want the past to define the future.

“The whole point of the project is to create jobs for local people.

“It’s going to take a couple of years – it’s a big project.

“But it has to be fit for purpose because it’s going to be the first place people will see when they visit the UK’s biggest freeport.”

Following the extensive refurbishment, the lower floors will provide services for the people who work on the redevelopment of the former Redcar steelworks, including a creche, coffee shop and gym, with upper floors providing office space.

The new-look building will keeps the original structure intact but will have cladding, artificial external lighting and additional windows and light wells.

As well as the building itself, the landscape around Steel House will be redeveloped to incorporate areas for outdoor eating, relaxation and exercise.

The Northern Echo:

Steel House will also be home to a heritage centre for the site, to mark the 170 years of steelmaking on Teesside.

John Watson, commercial project director for Teesworks, said: “Our job is make the building as safe as we can for the real work to start.

“Most of us have worked on projects like this all over the country, and the world.

“It may look daunting but it’s lot of the same problems throughout.”

I think it needs to be viewed in the context of the exciting times ahead on the site. Steel House will be part of that.

“To think of bringing all the new industry on that site and the opportunities for young people is a wonderful prospect.

“I spent over 50 years in the industry so I have an emotional attachment to the steel industry and heritage but I’m also very excited to look forward.