Port of Middlesbrough – reborn from history and heritage

Tees Business Digital Media Pack

As AV Dawson, a business synonymous with the Teesside region, embarks on rebranding its Middlesbrough base as Port of Middlesbrough, we investigate why it isn’t such a new identity, what the future has in store and how it’s keen to hold on to over 80 years of AV Dawson heritage.

One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when you mention AV Dawson is the strong sense of family. After all, it remains, as always, a family business. Founded more than 80 years ago by Arthur Vernon Dawson and his wife Eleanor, many Teessiders are familiar with the story of how the business has grown from a single horse and cart to the thriving business it is today.

However, the Middlesbrough-based business’s growth hasn’t happened by chance. This has been achieved through hard work and determination of three generations of the Dawson family including current managing director Gary Dawson and formerly his late father Maurice. Middlesbrough has always been firmly at the heart of the business, with each generation showing continued commitment to the area by investing and developing in the town.

This early investment saw the business buy Dent’s Wharf in the early 1970s as a yard to operate the expanding haulage business, while later acquisitions of Tyne Tees Wharf strategically added an additional length of river frontage.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the business gained a licence to operate its first quay. With this, the name of the quayside changed from Middlesbrough Wharf to Dawson’s Wharf.

In 1985, the business made further land acquisitions after buying Ayrton Rolling Mill from British Steel, but it wasn’t until 1998 that AV Dawson further expanded its quayside by buying the old Linthorpe Dinsdale Yard, affectionately known as Lin-Din.

This purchase included the 43-metre high fabrication halls, one of the most iconic buildings on the Teesside skyline. The site continued to expand, incorporating several plots of land alongside the Middlesbrough Goods Rail Yard. Once developed, these sites became collectively known as the Tees Riverside Intermodal Park.

With such deep heritage and a well recognised name, many may question the reasons behind a rebrand.

“Well, in part it is down to the reasons above,” says Gary Dawson. “The business transitioned from a one-man and-woman coal merchants in Linthorpe village, moving from horses to trucks and via three sites in Middlesbrough to its first quayside, before buying all the adjacent plots and culminating in 100 acres of integrated rail infrastructure, warehousing and quayside.

“This, and the various site names, has given us a real identity crisis and, while the name AV Dawson prevails, it is a challenge to describe succinctly what AV Dawson is. Invariably, we find ourselves defining the business by the site names and activities we have developed.

“Over recent months we have thought long and hard about what drives the business forward and what defines us. We’ve concluded that our location and the River Tees are key to this, neither of which feature in the company name.

“So, given the nature of all of the multimodal assets and activities we own and operate, we are best positioned from a marketing perspective describing ourselves as a port.

“We wanted to consolidate under one new encompassing brand and image, but with a continuation of the AV Dawson name and legacy. ‘Port of Middlesbrough – an AV Dawson facility’ fits with our history and reflects the growth of our business and the town.

“AV Dawson’s original quayside was built in 1830, with the later addition of Middlesbrough Dock which opened in 1842. By the 1890s this area of the river became known as Port of Middlesbrough, so this isn’t a new brand, we are simply returning to our roots as we look towards the future.”

Although the collective identity posed a challenge when commercial and marketing director Charlie Nettle joined the business five years ago, this wasn’t the only reason for the rebrand.

Charlie continues: “The identity wasn’t the only problem that we had to navigate. In addition to struggling to clearly convey what the business was about and the services it offered, it was often a challenge to articulate to potential customers the scale of the business, its capabilities and its appetite for investing and development.

“I often found myself naturally referring to the site as a port. When you think of a port, it is generally assumed that it will have all the additional service functions including rail connectivity, warehousing, storage and road haulage in place to support that operation. The port brand should help us showcase our full logistical services.

“In turn this will help us alter any past perceptions that we just do road haulage. Although that is a big part of our business, we have considerably more to offer.

“This is an exciting next step for AV Dawson – an opportunity to establish and progress the business in new markets under the new brand. The launch will also kick off a series of further investments and progress our port master plan, which will go on to create further jobs and investment in the local area.

“The new brand is also an excellent geographical locator for us, as it clearly identifies where we’re located in the UK and the direct access we have to main road links, rail routes and, of course, the North Sea via the River Tees.

“Importantly, this strengthens the credentials of our town – Middlesbrough now has a port, carrying the town’s name, less than a mile from the town centre.”

Charlie believes that Middlesbrough is becoming one of the north’s best-connected towns. The port is in close proximity to the town’s railway station – due to undergo a £35m refurbishment – and is less than a mile away from the new Tees Advanced Manufacturing Park, while developments to Teesside International Airport continue at a pace.

“The Port of Middlesbrough should be a real benefit for the wider area too,” he adds. “We plan to work closely with the statutory harbour authority, PD Ports, to ensure the Tees attracts more ships, as ultimately this will help drive jobs and the local economy.”