TODAY marks the end of an era and the close of a major chapter in Swindon’s history as Honda’s South Marston plant shuts down after 35 years.
Most of the 3,500-strong workforce have downed tools and left the 370-acre Highworth Road site for the final time, though a few will stay on while the enormous factory is decommissioned.
It’s a sad day for the staff, whether they had just joined for apprenticeships or were among the loyal longstanding employees who have dedicated decades of their life to the job and made close friends they became used to seeing five days a week.
Though the shock of the closure announcement that came out of the blue in February 2019 may have worn off, the reality of the situation is now hitting home for the workers and those in the supply chain who have felt the impact of the Japanese giant’s departure.
Sam Chaney said: “Mixed emotions having worked there for the last 14 years. It’s not just Honda closing, it’s surrounding support companies that are closing or closed as well so this is sad for Swindon.
“I’ll miss being part of the team but on a positive note, I’ve made some great friends and very much look forward to new beginnings.”
Glyn Bennett added: “A sad day. going to miss the work mates, we had good a laugh.”
Jane Coulthard said: “I said my goodbyes to my family for 20 years, it’s one of the saddest days. We had some great laughs and fun and we had our off days. It’s going to be a big loss for Swindon.”
Bobby Brewster said: “Enjoyed my 16 years but looking forward to a change of scenery, will miss those I’ve worked with though.”
Koren Simons said: “My husband has worked there for 15 years. I’m sad for him and all the workers.
“It was emotional watching the last car come off the line and all the workers cheering. A sad,sad day for Swindon and our country.”
The last Honda Civic made on-site rolled off the production line on Wednesday to much cheering and applause from a crowd of workers who stopped to watch the poignant moment after management staff said a few words of thanks to the hardworking teams.
During the last three-and-a-half decades, which saw peak employment of more than 4,000 people working at the site, the workforce manufactured 3.7 million cars – including the Honda Civic, Civic Type-R, Accord, and CR-V,- as well as 4.1 million engines.
Generous redundancy packages for Honda workers – said to be unprecedented by one union rep (see p7 for more details) – have softened the blow of the massive job losses but this is still a seismic shift in Swindon’s employment market.
The international car manufacturer revealed it made the decision to leave the UK due to a restructure of its global manufacturing network which focused on production of electrified cars and stressed that Brexit was not a factor.
Once Honda announced it would be leaving, a newly-formed task force of council, government and business representatives focussed on trying to reverse the decision while preparing the factory’s workers and the wider Swindon economy, for the loss of thousands of well-paid jobs.
The Honda and supply chain coordinating steering group led by Swindon Borough Council was set up to help people face the future.
Repeated attempts by politicians, business leaders and unions to convince the Japanese giant to stay – and even the organising of a major march with thousands of people marching through Swindon – could not change its mind.
The closure of the Honda plant is expected to have a knock-on effect on the supply chain which includes an estimated 12,000 employees.
Virtual redundancy events put on with the help of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership provided advice and support on not just finding new jobs, but health and wellbeing and money matters for laid-off workers .
The council enlisted the help of the National Career Service to provide support to employees at supply chain companies.
Plus, a functional skills training programme has been organised.SWLEP provided labour market intelligence and analysis of job opportunities to help Honda run a programme on future job opportunities.
It made available £200,000 in funding to carry out a transport study, in partnership with Highways England, to identify how the local road network could be enhanced if the Honda site was used to support up to 8,000 jobs.
Earlier this year, the car giant revealed that around 200 employees who were part of the company’s first two waves of redundancy, are now in alternative employment, education, or training.
Some of those who were supported by the car manufacturer’s career transition service also used the advice and support on offer to take career breaks or begin their retirement.
Local businesses Catalent and Recycling Technologies have stepped in to help Honda apprentices complete their courses and stay on in new jobs in growing sectors of the economy.
A range of other companies around the town have also expressed an interest in recruiting from the company’s workforce.
In October 2019, Honda Logistics announced it will cut hundreds of jobs after the neighbouring manufacturer leaves because its business would no longer be viable.