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World leader to address NECC members
Written by Mike Parker   
Friday, 09 May 2008 12:57

ONE of the best known and most influential world leaders of the 20th Century has chosen the North East as the venue for a solo talk in England next week. Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, is to speak to a gathering in Durham on Thursday, May 8, at the invitation of the region’s leading business organisation the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC). The event will be held at Durham University.

Mr Walesa co-founded the Soviety bloc’s first independent trade union, the Solidarity movement, that brought Poland out of communism. An awe-inspiring speaker, he ignited the passion of workers across the country for independence away from straight-jacketed working practices.

The Gdansk shipyard electrician was one of the most mobilising leaders the world has encountered and his push to improve the rights of his fellow countrymen won the backing of the Catholic Church and earned him an audience with Pope John Paul II. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

Mr Walesa was elected the first democratic President of the Republic of Poland in December 1990, a post he held until November 1995.

NECC used its international ties with the British Polish Chamber of Commerce (BPCC) to secure the unique visit from the renowned leader. The event is supported by regional development agency One NorthEast and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as well as venue hosts, Durham University.

Richard Bottomley, NECC president, said: “This is an incredible opportunity to hear directly from one of the world’s greatest leaders of all time. Mr Walesa not only transformed Poland, he had a profound impact globally. We are privileged to have him speaking here in Durham.

“Poland is one of the fastest growing international economies and Lech Walesa is synonymous with its success. It is a remarkable achievement for NECC and the North East that he has chosen our region to do his sole talk in England. The growth of the North East economy in recent years, and the role that Polish workers have played in filling the skills gap, was critical in securing his presence here in the region.”

Poland represents one of the world’s most exciting emerging markets. It is the 8th largest market in Europe and the biggest of the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004. The country has moved from an isolated communist state to one of the highest potential growth economies in Europe.

Regional development agency One NorthEast has supported NECC in its efforts to attract one of the most inspirational characters in history to come to the region.

Margaret Fay, chairman at One NorthEast, commented: "President Walesa is known for his world changing efforts of recent decades. Welcoming him to our region is not only an important opportunity, but also a great privilege and honour.

"The economy and people of the North East and Poland are building strong links, particularly in areas such as the Process industries, Energy and Food sectors. As we both continue to develop and grow, such links will strengthen, to the benefit of all. I am delighted that NECC is leading this work."

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, added: “Lech Walesa is one of the world’s most admirable and inspiring leaders. We are particularly pleased to welcome him to Durham University as he embodies many of the personal and professional qualities we aim to instill through our education here, such as determination, courage, self-belief, and a strong will to build a better future for his country.”

Kevin Rowan, regional secretary of Northern TUC, said: "The North East today has got stronger ties with Poland than it has ever had.

“The region has gained much from Polish workers coming here and giving a significant boost to our economy, providing a dynamism and energy that has contributed to recent economic growth and facilitating a more subtle cultural shift as the north east becomes more internationally diverse. The visit of Lech Walesa is a great coup for the region and an opportunity for us to celebrate these exciting developments."