FOR the past several months work to complete Amazon’s third huge warehouse in the North East has been underway, with its distinctive building taking shape.

From a patch of unused land on an industrial estate to a massive and sprawling complex, the online retailer has been waiting to move in.

And with thousands of permanent workers and seasonal staff now on its books, it has finally done just that as 'NCL1' in Gateshead has gone online.

Read more: How Amazon marked exactly 12 months since opening huge Durham warehouse

In a Northern Echo exclusive, we obtain a first look inside and meet some of the workers helping to keep the huge online operation going.

The Northern Echo:

The brand new Amazon 'NCL1' warehouse at the Follingsby Max Industrial Estate in Gateshead Pictures: JIM SCOTT

The size of six-and-a-half football pitches - around 546,000 sq ft in size, the mammoth building has taken over the site on the Follingsby Max Industrial Estate, near Gateshead.

Officially opening on September 6, it has already shipped millions of items to addresses right across the North East, UK and even Europe.

See behind the scenes below

It comes as the online retailer opened its very first North East 'Fulfilment Centre' in Darlington, last April and its second in Bowburn, near Durham, last September.

Explaining how it had taken around six months to prepare for, Richard Thompson, the site's General Manager, says Amazon Gateshead has opened just in time for peak trading.

The Northern Echo:

Amazon Gateshead's General Manager, Richard Thompson who has moved from the site at Bowburn near Durham

He says: “Amazon has built three buildings in the North East, starting in Darlington, opening Durham last September, and this site in Gateshead eight weeks ago.

"Christmas sales and Black Friday sales have started, we will continue to see increased customer demand and we’re in good shape for that."

Amazon, which has more than 20 Fulfilment Centres in the UK and a total of 40 across Europe, relies on a mix of manual labour and technology to keep up with demand.

And the Gateshead site is no different as Richard says with every new Fulfilment Centre, the technology is updated and features the company's latest robotics. 

The Northern Echo:

The site is named 'NCL1' after the nearest airport, which is Newcastle Airport

The Northern Echo:

The site features the company's latest tech including a 'Robotic De-palletiser'

The Northern Echo:

Gary Chapman, from South Shields, who works as a Fulfilment Associate and is seen here checking the goods as they arrive

More than 1,300 permanent, and 1,000 further seasonal jobs, have been created with roles across picking, packing, engineering, HR and IT at the Gateshead site alone.

As with other Amazon sites, the majority of those roles are taken up by 'Fulfilment Associates,' who are mainly responsible for picking and packing. 

Once parcels arrive, they are processed either by machine - or person, before they are sent to be 'stowed' on one of the three higher floors within the warehouse.

And the responsibility of that job falls down to Laura Robson, who is one of the site's Stow Associates and relief Team Leaders, who heads the operation on one of the floors.

The Northern Echo:

The items are all transported and stowed onto the three upper floors and the site has more than six miles of conveyor belts

The Northern Echo:

Laura Robson, from Wallsend in North Tyneside, who is Stow Associate and relief team leader at NCL1

She says: "Any stock that gets brought into the Fulfilment Centre gets unloaded downstairs, before it is sent up to us to be stowed, and then picked."

Similar to Amazon in Durham and Darlington, the site stores millions of items on "pod units," which are moved around by more than 2,000 robotic drives.

Read more: I did a shift working with Amazon's robots at its site in Durham

From there, AI technology helps those drives navigate a "robotic field" within the centre of the three upper floors and transports them automatically to a Fulfilment Associate for picking.

Laura, who lives in Wallsend, explains that there can be more than 40 pickers on each floor at any one time in order to keep up with orders.

The Northern Echo:

Like other Amazon sites, items are stowed on thousands of pods, which are controlled by more than 2,000 robotic drives

The Northern Echo:

Krisztian Szikora, originally from Hungary and now living in Newcastle, is a Fulfilment Associate who works on the picking of items

From books and watches to chocolate and toys, Amazon bosses say there are more than six miles of conveyors at Gateshead which are needed to transport goods quickly. 

The site is currently at "full capacity," meaning it is currently storing all the inventory it is capable of handling ahead of two very busy periods.

Online, it is currently the Black Friday event, which takes place over several days and sees prices slashed significantly - it is also preparing for Christmas, a time when Amazon anticipates demand will be at its busiest. 

The Northern Echo:

The warehouse sends out hundreds of thousands of products every day, serving the North East, the UK and Europe

The Northern Echo:

Timothy Mubawait, from Gateshead, who works as a Fulfilment Associate and helps to pack items once they have been picked from upper floors

In the run up to Amazon Gateshead opening, workers joining before its official opening date received training in Durham and Darlington in order to have workers "ready" in time for the launch date.

Meanwhile existing workers from across the region were offered the chance to transfer to Gateshead as Teesside-man, Brad Gaffney did after first starting out last April. 

Read more: Amazon's MME2 warehouse in Bowburn near Durham opened a year ago

Brad, who had been a restaurant manager and then placed on furlough due to the pandemic, is now one of the site's temporary area managers after a stint in Durham and Darlington.

The Northern Echo:

Brad Gaffney, from Teesside, who is now a temporary area manager after working at Amazon Darlington and Amazon Durham

The Northern Echo:

The site is vast, with corridors spanning hundreds of feet along with work stations 

Explaining the details of his role, he says: "My job mainly covers lots of HR, probation reviews, meetings, overseeing the multi-pack area and ensuring customer shipments are on time.

"I was in hospitality, became a general manager of a restaurant and then was put on furlough. Amazon opened up in Darlington and I transferred in the hope of progressing."

The Northern Echo:

The site mirrors the warehouse that has been built at the Integra 61 Industrial Estate in Bowburn, near Durham

In recent weeks, Amazon has been offering new starters at its Gateshead, Durham and Darlington sites a cash bonus of £1,000, provided they join before a set date depending on the location.

That follows on from previous reports that the retailer was preparing for a "busy" festive period across the UK with the fierce recruitment of thousands of seasonal staff. 

'We're super keen to open these buildings'

General Manager Richard admits that Amazon had been "super keen" to open the sites in the North East, going from none to three in the space of a year-and-a-half.

He says: “In the North East, we’ve offered more than 4,000 permanent roles and more than 3,000 seasonal roles.

"We’ve got to remember there’s jobs across the business people who pick and pack our customer orders, we’ve got jobs in HR, safety, engineering, IT and health and safety.

"We continue to expand as a business and I think we recognise there’s a lot of talent within the local area, and the North East and we've been super keen to open these buildings and continue to employ local talent."

The Northern Echo:

Earlier this year, local leaders welcomed the investment from Amazon as the retailer officially confirmed it would open in Gateshead.

'We’re really pleased to see jobs being created'

At the time Jonathan Walker, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce said that after a difficult period, it was promising to see the creation of thousands of jobs.

He said: "This announcement is a further endorsement of the region’s status as a great place in which to do business and builds on the strong commitment Amazon has already made to the North East.

"After such a difficult economic period we’re really pleased to see jobs being created that will provide opportunities to people in Gateshead and beyond."

Read more: Amazon respond after Unite the Union holds demonstration in Gateshead

But Amazon has not been without criticism, in the past year it has been at the centre of a number of protests from Unite the Union campaigners in the North East.

Amazon, on a national level, has faced allegations that it is preventing its warehouse workers from joining and forming unions after concerns globally were raised.

The retailer has continued to strongly refuted any such suggestion, saying it offers its workers "excellent" pay, benefits and opportunities while in "safe and modern" work places.

To see what jobs are available at Amazon in the North East - click here


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