It is a year ago today that Southampton suffered a body blow of the closure of Ford’s Transit plant.
At its peak more than 4,000 workers were employed at the Swaythling factory.
But there was shock when Ford confirmed it would be moving production of the iconic van after more than 40 years of production in the city to Turkey, where costs are “significantly lower” than in western Europe.
Despite the bitter blow for hundreds of workers, the company said it remained committed to keeping Ford in the city. It announced it would open a vehicle refurbishment centre on the site and a new vehicle distribution centre at the docks.
But what has happened since the last Transit – the 2,200,173rd – rolled off the production line?
Transit vans being assembled at the Swaythling plant.
The planned distribution centre has yet to completely open, with a decommissioning process still on-going one year later, while the new £12 million vehicle refurbishment centre is operational.
The distribution centre forms part of Ford’s logistics operations and covers import vehicle handling, onward distribution, and the shipping of engines to China.
The decision to close the plant last year affected 531 employees.
Ford’s new and expanded operations in Southampton provided positions for 134 of these employees, while a further 41 took up positions at other Ford locations in the UK.
It meant 356 employees took voluntary redundancy packages.
One of those who stayed with the company was Jagmohan Singh, who lives in the St Mary’s area of Southampton.
Jagmohan Singh on the Transit production line.
Along with other members of staff, he signed the last ever Transit van to be produced at the factory.
He told the Daily Echo he is still enjoying life with the firm as a van driver at the refurbishment arm of the firm.
Mr Singh said: “At the moment there are around 120 people working at the docks. I am really happy.
“Some people went on to other branches, like Cardiff and Liverpool, while others got a package and left the company.
“The closure of the former factory was very sad for many people that lost jobs. It was a really sad time because everyone was thinking about what was going to happen in the future. It’s a good atmosphere here. It’s like one happy family. I am glad I didn’t leave the company, and my family are pleased I stayed as well.”
Fred Hanna, regional officer for Unite the union, said the union fought to keep Ford in the city, but said the people of Southampton were let down. He also said staff did not envisage the Wide Lane site would still be in a decommissioning process 12 months on.
He said: “We kept 60 jobs on at the plant for the refurbishment centre and got an extra 60 jobs down on the docks. We maintained a footprint in Southampton.
“The refurbishment centre is taking time but it is my understanding that it is going to happen sooner rather than later.
“But it has been slow and we didn't anticipate it would take this long. We have been told it will happen sooner but not fully as we were promised.
“Some 20 of those employees have been moved to the docks while the ones that were in the plant probably have concerns for their long-term future.
“I think the people of Southampton were let down by Ford - it was not running at a loss.
“The car industry in this country is booming but the local economy took a hit for it and the industry we have lost will probably not come back.”
While studies and decommissioning of the Swaythling site continues one year on, including environmental remediation, legal and planning matters, Southampton Itchen MP John Denham said it was vital the site is secured for future employment opportunities.
Southampton Itchen MP John Denham.
He said: “The biggest hole that has been left is that it has taken well-paid manufacturing jobs out of the city.
“Although unemployment rates are not particularly high here, we haven't really got like for like in the city.
“The real challenge is now what we can secure for the future of the site.
“Things are unclear because Ford haven't completed the work they have to do on the condition of the site and what needs to be done to make it available for development - there are three decades of industrial use on there.
“We must not miss the opportunity and it is crucial the focus is on high-quality jobs. It's very easy to cover it with warehousing but we don't want that.
“We need to take advantage of the technology skills we have in Southampton.”
A spokesman for Southampton City Council said: “Since the closure of the Ford Factory, Southampton City Council has worked with Ford, various government departments, Eastleigh Borough Council and other key stakeholders to ensure the future use of the Ford site for employment purposes.
“A strong working relationship exists between all parties and the council continues to ensure that our local MPs are regularly updated.”
A Ford spokesman said it is hoped the vehicle refurbishment centre will be fully up and running by the end of the year.
They said: “We are invested in these two centres and we continue to be committed to Southampton.”