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Flintshire and North Wales’ links with Japan

Ian Budd, Chief Officer Education and Youth, Flintshire County Council

The recent announcement that Japanese savoury snacks manufacturer Calbee Inc – Japan’s largest producer of savoury snacks is opening a new factory in Flintshire gives us reason to look at cultural and industrial links between this North Wales county and Japan.

Flintshire Bridge over the River Dee

Flintshire Bridge over the River Dee

Calbee’s first investment in Europe will create 100 new jobs in an area committed to its international links, including some long established relationships with Japan. Flintshire County Council puts the economy and investment at the very top of its list of priorities. Almost uniquely in the UK, manufacturing remains at the heart of the local economy, providing 34% of all jobs (the figure for the UK is 13%). High value manufacturing is central here with aerospace, automotive components, specialty chemicals, food and paper and packaging, all well represented.

Flintshire is at the heart of the UK’s aerospace industry, with one of only two centres in the world capable of building ‘big wings’ for the civil aviation industry. The massive Airbus UK plant employs 7,000 people and is understood to be the largest manufacturing plant in the UK. Every wing for each one of the 3,000 Airbus aircraft produced since the 1970s has been manufactured in Flintshire. The UPM Kymenne paper plant at Shotton supplies 25% of the UK demand for newsprint and is located alongside the Toyota UK engine plant, which is a European Centre of Excellence.

The Toyota plant, which builds VVT-i petrol engines used in the Auris and Auris Hybrid among others, hosts the annual Wales Rally GB, the UK round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The service park features dedicated industry awareness experience for local schools, food and entertainment including live music, firework displays and a ‘fun zone’ with amusements.

Toyota is an active and valued community partner. It hosts an annual impressive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Industry Awareness area for children and young people, designed to help students find out more about studies and careers in STEM-based industries and features over 30 exhibitors. These include colleges and engineering companies, with the likes of Airbus and JCB on hand with interactive displays. Bloodhound, the land speed record project aiming to break 1000mph also takes part.

All schools in Wales are invited to come and enjoy the various educational exhibits, with many students taking up the opportunity. They tour the busy Wales Rally GB Service Park, as well as the Toyota Engine Plant, where several of the company’s motor sport heritage vehicles are displayed.

Flintshire County Council and the company recognise that getting young people involved through exciting, hands-on activities is one of the best ways to show them the relevance and importance of STEM subjects. However, it is not only young people who benefit from the close links between the County Council and the company. Toyota is a willing host to local headteachers exploring how the Toyota System can be applied to their work in securing school improvement.

Flintshire has also supported an annual cultural exchange between local young people and colleagues in Japan since the early 1990s. The objects of the Charitable Trust are to promote, maintain, improve and advance education by arranging and funding exchange visits for young people to and from the towns of Murata, Zao and Kawasaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The aims are to promote and foster among young people a positive understanding and appreciation of each other’s culture, education, commerce and recreation. Every July six Japanese students come to stay with six Flintshire students.

Over two weeks the Japanese visitors are immersed in our culture, visiting London, Cardiff, the National Eisteddfod Festival, Welsh Castles, Liverpool and partaking in the daily life and routines of their host families. Two weeks later six Flintshire students travel to Japan to stay with their Japanese counter-parts. The Flintshire students are introduced to skills and practices familiar to Japanese culture. They visit Tokyo, shrines, places of natural beauty and have classes in Japanese language, judo and painting Kanji symbols. The students regularly make firm friendships with their exchange students and their families.

Flintshire recognises that the future prosperity of our area and people depends upon the quality and success of our partnerships. The Council will do all that it can to ensure that Flintshire remains a welcoming place to do business. We know that we are far better and understanding partners when we promote cultural exchange and intellectual cooperation between our peoples.