Coronavirus: Bridgend Ford return to work marks 40 years

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Coronavirus: Bridgend Ford return to work marks 40 years

The Ford Escort
Image caption The brand new Ford Escort on the M4 near Bridgend in 1980

Ford's engine plant in Bridgend is restarting production after an almost two-month shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Its 1,200 robust workforce has been on furlough since 25 March but this remaining return to work - with the manufacturing unit because of close for good in September - also marks its 40th anniversary.

When the plant opened in Might 1980, it was seen as an industrial landmark during which the automotive was overtaking coal in Wales.

There have been still 30,000 working in mining, but 700 jobs at the Lewis Merthyr colliery within the Rhondda have been beneath menace. It's now a museum.

There were already about 30 automotive element corporations in south Wales when Bridgend - thanks partly to the private intervention of then-Prime Minister James Callaghan - gained the prize.

The Ford announcement in 1978 was described in the South Wales Echo as "the icing on an already substantial cake" for the automotive sector.

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Media captionThe story behind how the Ford engine plant in Bridgend was built between 1977 and 1980

The CBI at the time estimated 25,000 have been employed in the automotive business in Wales, with a turnover of £350m.

Borg-Warner, which made automated transmissions at Kenfig near Bridgend, had already opened Wales' first 1m sq ft manufacturing unit, with jobs for greater than 1,200 individuals. Most of its products went to Volvo in Sweden.

There were others too, supplying British Leyland - which had two of its personal companies in Cardiff and Llanelli, making gearboxes and radiators.

Picture caption Though Ford was in Mid Glamorgan, it did not stop neighbouring South Glamorgan selling itself as a location for business by a future first minster, Rhodri Morgan
Picture caption The 500,000th engine got here off the manufacturing line in December 1981
Picture caption Miss UK Michelle Donnelly is particular visitor on the plant in 1981, meeting John Owen, the first employee to be taken on in 1980

The manufacturing unit opened in 1980 without fanfare at an economically unsure time. There was a two-week long strike at local newspapers, so the occasion handed with out comment or document.

Within a number of weeks of the Bridgend plant opening, Ford announced just one,400, not 2,500 individuals, can be employed there due to a stoop in automotive gross sales.

British Leyland was additionally struggling, with £122m losses introduced. Unemployment was more than double 2020's pre-coronavirus figure and inflation was operating at almost 18%.

Picture copyright Tim Graham/Getty Pictures
Image caption Princess Diana pictured driving one of many news Ford Escorts in 1981

The new vary of Ford Escorts - with Bridgend producing 2,000 engines every week for them - have been in automotive showrooms by the top of September 1980.

Motorists paid £3,374 for the essential model and Princess Diana was photographed driving one a yr later - by the top of the decade, it will arguably be the UK's hottest automotive with greater than 1.6 million fashions on the roads.

Image caption Staff voting to go back to work after a primary strike in December 1981
Image copyright Mirrorpix
Image caption Prince Philip takes a tour around the plant in 1986

As well as modifications in demand for automobiles and the drive for efficiencies - the past decade has seen Bridgend making engines for Ford automobiles made elsewhere in Europe but not in the UK.

The writing was on the wall when investment in a new petrol engine, referred to as Dragon, was scaled back, as production was because of finish for the engine Bridgend made for Jaguar Land Rover.

Ford blamed "changing buyer demand and price disadvantages" for the decision to shut.

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Media captionStaff react to news that Ford's engine plant will shut in 2020

Right now, only a few quarter of the 30 corporations within the automotive sector around Ford 40 years ago still exist but have been replaced by others - there at the moment are more than 70 elements suppliers alongside the M4 corridor and valleys alone.

The numbers working in it have shrunk - however the automotive sector continues to be estimated at employing about 18,000 staff across Wales.

Ford Bridgend is re-opening quietly again on its 40th anniversary for what is destined to be a very brief interval. But in addition at an uncertain - and extraordinary - time for the entire business.