‘A brief history of my career at Evode’

I started my thirty years at Evode in September 1963. Previously to this I had worked at Lotus since the age of fourteen for nearly seventeen years as a hand clicker. It was during the latter part of my time at Lotus that I was short listed for a staff appointment. Events took a different turn when my manager said there was a position of supervisor at Vik Supplies who had just a few months earlier had been taken over by Evode. He advised me to go for an interview, which I did.

The interview was with Mr B Preece and I came away with a favourable impression. So I began my future with Vik Supplies which was situated opposite the Lotus factory in Sandon Road. The site was the old shell factory with Tool and Die situated in the brick buildings who made machinery and tools for the shoe industry. Our accommodation was far more humble since it consisted of three Nissan hut type buildings. It was very much a fly by the seat of your pants operation at the time and I had to adjust. For example the things Mr Geoff Matthews did on the Greenbank impregnating machine with bits of string, elastic bands and bits of wood is now legendary.

My position was production supervisor of the toe puff and stiffeners. This was similar job to my previous employment. I was used to the Revolution presses and clicking presses for cutting the production and I soon picked up the skills of skiving. I had a good tutor in Mr Arthur Clark who was coming up to retirement age and I owed him a lot for his help at this time. This was a time of full employment and young ladies for training as skivers were few on the ground. Consequently we had to take whatever was available. I remember once Arthur saying that we were the last stop before the Stafford Laundry for labour! Still we had some rough diamonds who were paid an old penny a gross for skiving the puffs. Production schedules were always hectic and orders had to be turned round in three days as competition was very strong. Our biggest competitor was of course L Holt of Enderby. But we were more than holding our own. I think one of the reasons for this was the strong family atmosphere we had and a very happy workforce.

I remember one part of Arthur Clarks job was very interesting. It involved dying plain white satin shoes sent to us by Lotus. The well to do and rich ladies would send a piece of material in which had been taken from a ball gown or a bridesmaids dress. Arthur would mix powdered dyes to match the material. Then with a small cotton mop he would coat the shoes. The results were outstanding. Thank goodness I did not have to learn this skill as it was suspended after our move to a new factory on the main Evode site in Common Road.

We moved to the main Evode site just nine months after I joined Vik Supplies. The new factory was far removed from the previous surroundings in Sandon Road. Also at the new factory we were joined by the ribbon binding section who put a hot melt coating on the edge of the shoe binding ribbon. This section was run by Mr George Clark who had moved in before us from the wood heel factory in Sandon Road. It took time to get organised but we had a free hand to arrange things as we saw fit. The coating and impregnation machines were situated next door and business was booming on the new Revaplast with commission coating.. The biggest customer was probably B.M.C. Cars at Longbridge.

This reminds me of an amusing incident. One morning a large Jaguar car was parked at the rear of the building. On investigation I saw a smartly dressed man leaving our raw material store carrying a poly bottle. I questioned our storeman who said “Oh that is the Doctors chauffeur he had come to collect the Doctor’s Teepol” He explained that he came every few months to stock up on washing up liquid. I replied that if it was another satisfied customer, well done and keep up the good work and left. We used Teepol as a wetting agent on the skiving machines to assist the passage of puffs through the machines. After about three years at Common Road Arthur Clark retired and George Clarke moved over to stock control. This resulted in me taking over control of both puffs and binding sections. The ribbon binding had been running down over the years due to improved shoe production and the need to cut costs in the industry. Foreign competition was contracting our shoe industry. This in turn took an effect on the toe puff and stiffener orders as well.

Drastic measures were called for and it came out of the blue when we took over Holts at Enderby. Mr Geoff Matthews and I were sent to Enderby several times to see how to integrate their factory into Vik Supplies. We were well received. It was decided by the management to let each site run separately with Holts doing the cheap end of the market and Stafford taking the higher quality mens trade. At this time I added another string to my bow when I started to be sent on trouble shooting visits to shoe factories across the country. This I found was very interesting work. More often than not I found the problem to be a case of shoe manufacturers ordering cheaper puffs to cut costs and not getting the right quality shoes as a result. About two years after the Holts takeover it was decided by management to close the Stafford puff section and transfer it to Enderby.

Mr Bernard Preece sent for me and asked if I would be interested in a move with the job to Enderby. He explained that Geoff Matthews was going and the company wanted me to go as well. After giving it a great deal of thought I decided to stay at Stafford due to family commitments and the then factory manager Mr R Edwards sent for me. He explained that he was not happy with my decision and he advised me to grasp the opportunity and go to Enderby. But my mind was made up and I stood with my decision and would take my chances at Stafford. It was a sad time in my working life and I was spending most of my time at Enderby helping to facilitate an easy transfer of production. With Geoff Matthews going to Enderby it left a vacancy in the coating department which I was offered and gladly accepted under the new supervisor Mr Jim Brotherton.

It was not a big change because I had a close working relationship with Jim and his production. It was about this time that the container store was emptied and a very large hot melt coating machine was installed. It was to be a joint venture with a carpet manufacturer, Brintons, I think, to revolutionise carpet making. On trials the machine performed far better than anyone could have hoped for and it was a magnificent piece of machinery. The thought that I would be involved was very exciting. But it was not to be. Time went by and dust collected on the machine and after sometime it was dismantled and taken away.

I only spent about two years in coatings as I was offered a supervisors job in the adhesives department which I decided was in my best interest. So I accepted. The situation was that there was three older supervisors who were coming up to retirement age. There was the manager, Mr E Newman, Mr A Burton and Mr R Moseley. Well Mr Alf Burton was the first to retire closely followed by Mr Reg Moseley. This meant that I was second in command to Eddie Newman in charge of all production and packing. I remember one funny incident when I had only worked in the department for a week or so. One morning I was met by Dr Simon who was as usual taking his walk about to keep up with things. It as a custom which was always appreciated by all employees. He said “What are you doing in here?” I explained my transfer etc., to which he said “Well you had better move quickly because there is a problem right behind you” I turned to find a poly pump repeat filling with the new operative not knowing what to do. I hit the air supply and stopped it. On turning round I saw the Doctor some ten yards down the gangway with a wry smile on his face and with a nod of his head he move off. At the time I thought that I had passed my initiative test.

After about three years, Eddie Newman retired and I had a new manager, Mr N Bevans. He came with an army and engineering background. This meant that he had far different ideas to what I had been used to. But after a while I learnt to adjust to his ways of leadership and we became a good team. He came at a time when new machines were bring installed and it fell to me to help commission it. This proved to be quite a headache in the case of the automatic wall tile poly bottle filler line. Eventually we conquered it and to our dismay it was relocated in the Mastic department. Not long after this we took delivery of a new blister packing machine which performed quite well from the start. A lot of credit for this was due to in no small part to the two mechanics we had in the department at the time, Mr Gordon Pickerall and Mr Dave Quick.

One of the reasons for the long time getting new machines up and running was the advent of temporary labour. There was a large pool of labour at the job centres. This was all right up to a point, but I voiced my strong feelings against this practice to my manager. I was in the front line in this since I was constantly training new operatives. Also I was spending more and more time in the personnel office interviewing new recruits. I was constantly hiring and firing and I could not agree with this piece of company policy.

After twenty seven years at the company we were taken over by Laporte and I became one of the people to be fired. It was the most harrowing experience. I was standing astride some feeder pipes to the tin line adjusting the track guide due to the fact the engineer was doing a repair elsewhere. The machine noise was such that I could not hear Mr Topley calling me from behind so he actually tapped my on the shoulder. I turned and realised it was really the proverbial tap on the shoulder. He took me to the then factory manager, Mr Lewis who informed me that my services were no longer required. It was the most awful day of my time with the company which had always had a happy and family atmosphere. Mr Lewis went on to say that there was a job of a similar statue in the export packing dept, but I must give my answer before four o’clock that day. Feeling weak at the knees I went for a drink and while sitting feeling shocked I was approached by Noel Bevans who assured me that he did not know of my redundancy and while he consoled me he too was approached by Mr Topley. I did not see Noel again. He left the site immediately.

Needless to say I accepted the offer of the supervisors job in export packing. This proved to be a blessing in disguise. It turned out to be the most interesting and fulfilling job I had in all my working life. We were situated in the new finished goods warehouse and I just had four male workers which was a big difference to the thirty six mixed sex people I had at the time of high production in the adhesive factory. Once I had mastered the making up of the packing specs and the different labelling for all the countries around the world the job became very enjoyable. We were very cramped for space because of the large amount of orders Evode despatched. I remember going home for lunch one day and I said to my wife that I would not take early retirement as it was a joy to go to work. This proved to be a false prophecy as about two years later the company was taken over again and I became a victim for the second time. Still this time I had reached sixty years of age and my wife said I should join her and enjoy a longer retirement. It was ironic really that it took forty years of working life to find the best job for me and I only spent three years in it! Looking back over the thirty years I really enjoyed my time at Evode. But I don’t miss it because my seven years of retirement so far has been the most relaxing and enjoyable of my life.

28 August 2000