Here Come The (Ford) Girls

“When I first started, back in the old days the older men that didn’t think that women should be here. … There were not many women there at the time. It was a bit scary to start with, but you sort have got to be a little bit mouthy as well. … The first two weeks the older generation, I was 21, the blokes that were in their late 50s or 60 they thought that the women should be at home at the kitchen sink… it took quite a while for them to accept a woman coming in.” A former women worker at Ford (not the person in the photo).

Our festival has a particular story to tell. On Monday 23rd October, women engineers from the former Ford plant will be talking about their experiences working in a male world, stories from the women who were partly responsible for the vans you still see on the streets today.

Initially, women were mainly restricted to working in the sewing room, in offices, and as support in the canteen. Starting in the late 1970s (the plant had been set up in 1949), women started working on the shop floor. They faced resistance from the old guard.

Those employed in the later years had fewer difficulties, firstly due to the numbers of women by then working the shop floor, and secondly because attitudes had changed. They were more accepted as part of the workforce. Over time, women who trained as apprentices in production work and engineering became supervisors and managers.

Padmini Broomfield

Our event, chaired by oral historian Padmini Broomfield, will focus on the experiences of women, told by a few of those who worked at the plant for several years; memories and reflections of what it was like to work in a male-dominated manufacturing environment. One of the speakers was a former apprentice for the Production Management Team in the 1970s and later became a manager at Ford. Another started in 2000 and worked on the production line.

The stories will be supplemented by audio extracts of interviews recorded in 2013, in the weeks before the plant closed.

About the plant: From 1972 to the early 2000s, the Ford Factory in Swaythling was the sole producer of the Transit van; UK demand for the vehicles was so high that Ford promoted the factory from a creator of parts to the one producer of the entire product in Europe. Between 1972 to the mid 1980s, the factory employed 4,500 workers.

But things started on a definite downward turn in 2009, and by 2011, Southampton was only making the wheelbases, and the factory closed in 2013 following a cutback in European production.

Our city has the best oral history archive in the country. This is going to be good.

Taking The Floor At Ford is on Monday 23rd October at Mettricks Old Town from 7:30pm. Tickets are free but booking is essential; sign up here.

By Charlie Place and Padmini Broomfield.

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