polo boat shoes men Legacy of Rhondda Burberry factory closure five years on
Joan Young was four years away from retirement when she was made redundant in a decision that began a remarkable worldwide campaign.
The Burberry factory worker was one of 304 employees put out of work when the firm pulled its polo shirt production out of Rhondda after 18 years in 2007.
A clothing factory had stood on the site for nearly 70 years, and some of the threatened workers had spent their whole careers there under different management.
A co ordinated effort began to try to persuade Burberry to halt the relocation of the plant overseas.
Why did Burberry close its Treorchy plant?
Burberry chiefs told MPs in February 2007 that it was not commercially viable to keep its south Wales factory open.
Directors told the Welsh Affairs Select Committee that it decided to move production overseas after a year long review of its operations.
They said some products could be made at greater quality and with “significantly lower” costs abroad.
The MPs were told that while 25% of Burberry’s polo shirts were made in Treorchy, less than 10% of sales were in the UK.
It said for goods such as polo shirts, cost was more important than place of manufacture.
In a paper submitted to the committee, Burberry said Wales was “challenging” to compete against the economies of Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe because of its labour intensive low value added manufacturing industries.
At the time of the factory closure, Burberry’s chief financial officer Stacey Cartwright told the MPs that 124 of the original 309 employees at Treorchy had found other jobs and the company was trying to help the rest find alternative employment.
She said more than 200 vacancies had been identified in the local area and 600 more were in the pipeline in call centres and supermarkets.
There were protests in cities as diverse as London, Paris, New York, Chicago, Strasbourg and Las Vegas, while stars including Sir Tom Jones, Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church and Ben Elton backed the workers.
Their campaign was not successful, and the factory closed its doors on 30 March, but not before hundreds of workers made a final march from the gates, joined by male choristers and a jazz band.
Mrs Young, now retired,
never went back to full time work, a story she believes was prevalent among the largely female workforce.
Five years after the closure, Mrs Young said: “I rarely see any of the girls now. I was talking to one girl in her 50s who had a job in Asda but not full time,” she said.
“A lot have had jobs in nursing homes but still not full time.
“Some of them, particularly the men, haven’t had a job at all.”
She herself found another part time job for a while in a nursing home, but developed shoulder and arm problems and was unable to work for two years.
A job at Asda followed, but she had to leave to take care of her mother, and then reached 60 and received her pension.
She and her husband had just finished putting their youngest child through university when the redundancies were announced, a few days after her husband had taken early retirement.
The additional four years would have helped them have money “to save or to squander either would have been nice,” she said ruefully.
Mrs Young said the building had had a revamp since Burberry’s departure and was partially in use to small businesses such as a mechanic and a carpet warehouse, while the double glazing firm Everest occupied a section.
However she estimated only 25% of the building was occupied.
“There were electrics put in for a call centre but no one is in there. It’s a huge room, and it’s empty.”
A website listing for the factory, now the Parc Busnes Treorci, was advertising up to 7,000sqm of space available in the building.
Now 61, she still acts as a trustee for the Rhondda Trust, which was set up with money donated by Burberry to benefit the people of Rhondda for 10 years.
The trust meets twice a year to allocate the annual 150,000 given to them,
with one section going to groups and the other to individuals.