[Uploaded to BikeBiz.co.uk on 23rd September]
By Mhairi McFarlane
Once a hive of industry, the assembly lines at Sturmey Archer are now almost deserted
Last week some 300 staff at bicycle gear manufacturers Sturmey Archer were told they no longer had jobs and were given ten minutes’ notice to leave the building.
The closure of the firm has brought nearly a century of Nottingham’s history to an abrupt and bitter end.
Foot steps echo loudly on the concrete factory floor at Sturmey Archer. The din from the factory is usually enough to make coffee cups tremble in nearby offices and people have to shout to be heard over the bang and clatter of machinery.
Now the cavernous building is virtually deserted, silent after 98 years. Tens of thousands of pounds worth of state-of-the-art equipment lies idle, stained aprons hang on their hooks.
A forklift truck has been abandoned halfway across a loading bay and boxes filled with gleaming silver bicycle spokes and springs are left untouched now just so much scrap metal.
Only days ago, the Triumph Road manufacturing plant in Radford was alive.
The shock among the handful of people who remain in the ghostly surroundings is palpable.
They work quietly to complete their final tasks customers still have outstanding orders which must be met.
But their colleagues are absent and the mood is grim. The executioner’s axe fell with devastating speed for the employees at Sturmey Archer many of whom had spent decades with the firm.
Last Friday afternoon, the entire workforce was called to an urgent meeting among the assembly lines.
Managers broke the news they themselves had heard only half-an-hour earlier: the company was insolvent… all jobs would be lost.
The closure was immediate workers were given ten minutes to clear out.
One employee, who did not wish to be named, remembers the reaction. "Disbelief, horror, anger, hatred… I would imagine they went through every negative emotion you can have in just a few moments."
There were shouts and open displays of grief as staff realised they would be left without a job or redundancy money.
Machines were smashed as some furious workers momentarily lost control. A set of keys to one of the trucks was thrown down a drain.
The suddenness of the announcement contrasted sharply with the optimism and commotion which had preceded it, as those same workers prepared to shift production to new sites in Basford and Calverton.
The relocation was to have been part of a rescue package by new owners Lenark.
It bought Sturmey Archer from Derby Cycle Corporation, which also owns Raleigh, for a nominal fee of less than £50, debts and all.
Derby Cycle Corporation had previously sold the land in Triumph Road to the University of Nottingham, making a move inevitable.
But the vision for the future never materialised and there is a strong sense of betrayal that the responsibility for so many livelihoods changed hands for so little.
Alan Ettles, 49, is one of the managers who is still coming in to help finish up. He has 13 years of loyal service behind him.
Like many, he says the attitude to the upheaval in recent weeks had been defiantly positive.
Rates of production had gone up by 20 and 30% as the workers galvanised themselves for change.
Alan said: "Times were tight but we were fighting our way out.
"Everyone has been working very, very hard to improve manufacturing performance on the carrot’ of a future for Sturmey Archer… to see that blown away now is doubly frustrating."
At the back of the stairwell near the reception, there is a bare flagpole where the Sturmey Archer logo once hung alongside the Union Jack. Alan explains: "I moved it and took it to Calverton, I thought it would be a nice gesture.
"Seems sad now, doesn’t it? Almost pathetic." He shakes his head. Alan has grown-up daughters to support through college, but will have no source of income when he walks through the factory gates for the last time.
On the day the firm folded, Roger Airey, director of operations, marked an anniversary of 31 years with Sturmey Archer.
He admits: "I have no idea what I’m doing after this. At the moment I’m just working long hours to see what we can salvage, to keep customers. I’m tired.
"It’s a surreal situation. People keep saying, this isn’t like the real world. You just hear about things like this happening."
The sense of loss is everywhere. One man working alone at a lathe says his workmates were like family to him and he wants to get finished and go as soon as possible.
Others wandering around the empty factory don’t know where else to go.
The lucky ones will find a wage in another part of the industry, but many are middle-aged and frightened by the prospect of hunting for work.
Fazal Khan, 51, who has four children, has worked as a toolsetter for the last 13 years.
"300 lives have been ruined here. We have given blood and sweat and yet we are being treated like this.
"No one has apologised. No one wants to listen to us."
Another employee, who says it feels like the end of an era, said: "It’s not just sad for Sturmey Archer, or for Nottingham, it’s sad for the bicycle industry as a whole. We were truly UK-based. We don’t buy foreign parts and stick them together. We made things here."