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ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CLASSIC RALEIGH CHOPPERS BUT DIDN'T KNOW WHO TO ASK


This article appeared in the Nottingham papers on the 29th November 2002. Thanks to Dan Lucas , who used to live across the road from the factory, for sending it to us.

TURN OF THE LAST WHEEL
12:00 - 29 November 2002

Raleigh's Triumph Road factory finally closed yesterday as bicycle production is being transferred to the Far East. Workers quietly downed tools as the last bike rolled off the production lines. MARK PATTERSON spoke to some of the redundant workers.

The man who built the last wheel for the last bicycle made at Raleigh was in the pub enjoying a drink. Barrie Wheat, a 40-year-old former pupil of Elliot Durham School, had the honour of knowing it was he who sent into the world the last bike which could still have been labelled 'Made in Nottingham.' It was, for the record, a 20-inch disc brake wheel for a children's Raleigh Max which rolled off the production line at 3pm on Wednesday. Yesterday the factory closed its doors forever. And having done his last ever job at Raleigh, Barrie joined his workmates for a pub crawl which appeared to be part rueful regret and part bitter goodbye for a manufacturer once thought impregnable to drastic change.

From now on, Raleigh will no longer either make or assemble bicycles. As the company announced in March, manufacturing and assembly is switching to Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand because production costs there are more than 20 per cent lower.

Although Raleigh will retain a warehousing, design and distribution facility in Eastwood, the famous factory in Triumph Road, so long a solid symbol of Nottingham's manufacturing prowess, is being closed down. The site will be vacated by March and then developed by the new owners, the University of Nottingham.

Yesterday, Raleigh's factory floor had the forlorn air of a hastily abandoned ship. The precision machines which turned out as many as four million bikes a year in the late 1970s stood quiet, some decorated with sarcastic notices left by the final 280 workers. "Awful, awful," muttered Phillip Darnton, Raleigh's 59-year-old Managing Director who will be leaving the company when the move to Eastwood is complete. In his office, he explained that managers began to realise that the issue of where Raleigh's bikes were made would have to be addressed when Raleigh's previous owners, the American Derby Cycle Corporation, sold the Triumph Road site. "That was when everyone realised that the game was in play," he said. "Nevertheless, throughout 2000 we did big studies with a management consultant from Chicago which showed that we could still compete on costs
with the Far East." On that basis, Raleigh started negotiations to secure a new factory site at the Blenheim Lane allotments in Bulwell. When Derby Cycle Corporation filed for bankruptcy in July last year, a successful management buy-out of Raleigh was led by Alan Finden-Crofts. But by this year the studies of costs abroad were telling a different story. Raleigh found that factories in Vietnam, for example, were able to produce and assemble bikes 22 per cent cheaper than Raleigh could in Nottingham. But wouldn't consumers prefer to keep buying British bikes if it helped manufacturing stay in Britain? No, said Mr Darnton, because although the Raleigh brand is associated with reliability and value, most consumers don"t care where a bike is made. "If the price is right and the colour is right, they'll buy it," he added. "The dealers have told us that people buy bikes with their eyes." The only part of a Raleigh bike which Raleigh will continue to assemble in Eastwood - out of imported components - are the wheels.

What wheel-builder Barrie Wheatley wanted to know was why Raleigh hadn't invited the cameras in to record the historic moment when the last Raleigh bike came off the line in Triumph Road? For he and his mates who went on a pub crawl yesterday to mark the factory closure, and their redundancies, it seemed that Raleigh had deliberately tried to downplay the last day. If true, it would make business sense to Mr Darnton, who stresses that the company wants to avoid creating the impression that it is not in the bike business anymore. On the contrary, it still has around 55,000 bikes in the Triumph Road warehouse ready for Christmas sales and a completely new range of bikes on offer next year. But this isn't how some former employers see it. "They put on a buffet this morning, managers made some speeches, people picked up their redundancy cheques and then went home," said Claudette Green, a wheel-maker from Wollaton who worked at Raleigh for more than 20 years. "You didn't have a chance to say goodbye to people. It's the end of an era, but I don"t think Raleigh made that much of the occasion. It shouldn't have been so low-key. Raleigh has been a big part of Nottingham for 100 years. Everybody has a sister, a mam or a dad who worked there."

Brian Halford, a tool setter for 38 years, admitted to feeling "gutted" at the closure and didn't have another job to go to. His colleague, Harvey Linley, also a tool setter for 38 years, thought staff should have realised long ago how serious the threat from Far East manufacturing was to their jobs. Other former employees, such as temp Katherine Duncan, stressed the family atmosphere that had existed at Raleigh. "Quite a few people have been in tears," she said.

But others were not so rueful. Colin Arnold, from Gamston, said he was glad to be out. He was quite clear that he didn"t think his 14,755 redundancy cheque and goodbye "mug" were good enough thanks for his 31 years service. They gave us a so-called golden handshake, which we earned, and a mug," said a colleague, who refused to give his name. "It"s sad for the people who have given that kind of service." What about Raleigh's last wheel man Barrie Wheat? "It was really enjoyable making that wheel because I know what Raleigh"s been through," he said through the fog of cigarette smoke. "I feel grateful. I"ve made so many friends." Over at the Triumph Road factory, Phillip Darnton was reflecting on the so far enduring strength of the Raleigh name.
"Nobody in business in the UK has that sort of grip," he said. "Well, Dyson has, but that's a bloody vacuum cleaner. Everybody had a Raleigh. Everybody worked at Raleigh."

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