AV Dawson is a name known across Middlesbrough – and all over the planet
As father and son Lee and Anthony Vaughan walk round the giant AV Dawson site in Middlesbrough, they seem at home.
Lee, 48, has worked there for decades – and he’s seen some changes.
He’s risen through the ranks to become Head of Operations and cracks jokes about the unusually clean hi-vis jacket he’s wearing for his photograph.
He waves and stops for a chat with colleagues – friends – as he points out the small, original Dawson’s Wharf on the south bank of the River Tees.
“Look at the size of this place now,” Lee says as we survey 1km of quayside.
“I’ve seen it grow, and when I think about it, it’s quite a proud feeling really.”
AV Dawson is a name known across Middlesbrough – and all over the globe.
The family business has grown over the years from that small wharf to become one of Teesside’s biggest success stories.
The dock got bigger, the equipment more sophisticated, the cranes taller and the ships it welcomed into port more massive, but AV Dawson remains rooted in tradition.
Current managing director Gary Dawson is the grandson of Arthur Vernon Dawson (Vernie), the man who named Dawson’s Wharf.
Lee has his own son Anthony, 31, now a team leader, following in his footsteps.
Lee said: “A lot of people have been here for a long time, the atmosphere is brilliant.
“We have a class time, we have good banter between the lads and we’re like family really.
“We have a good laugh, when we can of course! Safety is obviously very important, and we do get busy.”
The port is a hive of activity – in its giant fabrication halls, a trawler is being built and parts are being stored for a large train manufacturer.
Outside, huge steel girders are shunted round on a forklift.
There’s always work to keep Lee, Anthony and their colleagues busy – especially when they regularly host giant ships, up to 220m long, into port and set about loading or unloading cargo with a myriad of fixed cranes, reach stackers and forklift trucks.
“Every time we’ve got bigger, the ships have got bigger,” said Lee.
“I’m definitely proud of it, it’s a business that’s come through a lot and built itself into what it is today.
“It’s a family business, it has put its own money in and it’s succeeding.”
The family theme is evident everywhere.
In 2020, the AV Dawson site at Riverside Park was renamed Port of Middlesbrough, with an impressive new headquarters building currently under construction.
It’s hoped they’ll all be able to gather this year for a staff Christmas party – and after working in a multitude of roles across the site, Lee has already jokingly applied for the barman’s job.
Anthony is now a dad himself to two boys, aged five and eight, and still lives in Park End.
Some of his kids’ teachers at Park End Primary taught him, and even his dad.
The 31-year-old said: “This is definitely the best place I’ve ever worked.
“It means a lot to me, this job. When I was little my dad was here all the time, it’s always been a big part of my life.
“Working with my dad, it’s really good. It’s definitely made us closer, actually.”
Of course, Anthony adds with a smile: “It’s a love/hate sort of thing.”
We are words by Mike Brown.
We are photos by Mike Sreenan.