The bulldozers and wrecking balls were recently unleashed in Low Moor, Bradford to bring down two local landmarks in the place where I grew up.
I left school at 16 in 1982, started work two weeks later at a local chemical factory, Allied Colloids as it was back then, just round the corner from where I lived.
I loved it. I got to spend the first two weeks in an induction course in an actual chemical laboratory with other wet behind the ears school leavers learning all about the company, its products, ‘elf n safety, the lot. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had such a gentle introduction to the world of real work.
It was a really exciting time and a great company to work for. They provided free day release further education for all their employees (luncheon vouchers included), had a brilliant subsidised staff canteen (so good I used it every day instead of doing the less than 5 minute walk home) and a thriving sports & social club with loads of activities always going on. I remember being cajoled by colleagues into taking part in an ‘It’s A Knockout’ style event and discovering a real competitive streak that had evaded me all my schooldays, when I was just the one who got picked last for everything and had two left feet (apart from the time I scored a goal in 5-a-side, but that’s another story).
I also got a free pair of steel toecapped shoes (in case anything heavy fell on you while out on the plant area) a pair of white lab coats and various spatulas and other chemistry related accoutrements, dispatched on the production of a signed ‘chitty’ by Arthur the storeman, that made me feel all grown up and a ‘proper’ member of staff from day one, not just a new kid straight outta school.
After the induction, we newbies were all assigned to various different parts of the business (it was a huge plant that dominates a big chunk of Low Moor in Bradford where I grew up) and I ended up in what was known as the Intermediate Lab, where products were quality tested as they came off the plant production lines. It was quite a young workforce overall, with a few older heads to lead the way, and the people I worked with were fantastic. Friendly, welcoming, helpful. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better bunch of workmates.
On a daily basis, I was running tests and procedures, using the full gamut of lab based gizmos: bunsen burners, fume cupboards, test tubes, litmus papers, even got to wear a gas mask every now and then. Also got to go out of the lab onto the plant and collect product samples from the huge chemical vats they were stored in, coming into contact with the guys who worked out there and the, shall we say, more industrial language they used was a real eye and ear opener for me. What larks!
They even paid me to have all this fun. One of the foremen from the plant, Sid was his name, would come round on a Friday afternoon with paypackets to sign for, containing a payslip and actual cash money. My weekly wage was £44.45. It seemed like a fortune to me.
If you ever used a fabric softener or a wallpaper paste back in the early 1980s, there’s a fair chance I or one of my colleagues in the lab quality tested it before it made it onto the supermarket shelves, as that was the line of business ‘Colloids’ (as everyone called it) was in. They also made stuff for industrial use in oilfields and the like.
Why did I ever leave?
There are days when I still ask myself that question… but really it was for health reasons. Me and some of the chemicals in use there didn’t get on very well.
The plant is still there, but the name Allied Colloids is long gone. And now, more recently, so are the laboratory buildings that have formed a part of the Low Moor skyline on Cleckheaton Road for almost my entire life and where I took my first tentative teenage steps into the world of work.
It was strange to see them slowly disappear from the familiar local landscape, a little bit more gone every time I drove past, a much loved part of my own personal history being erased brick by brick.
I have no idea if it is still as good a place to work as it was when I was there all those years ago, but I hope it is. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job.