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Ford Bridgend: 'It's over - and it's hard to take'

By Gareth Lewis
BBC Radio Wales

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The Ford plant in Bridgend will shut down for the last time later, bringing to a close four decades of production at the site.

The closure, announced in June 2019, will have a major impact on the local community in Bridgend, with the loss of hundreds of skilled, well-paid jobs.

When opened in May 1980, it was seen as an industrial landmark in Wales.

And for those living there, such as BBC Radio Wales presenter Gareth Lewis, its blue logo loomed large over life.

'Synonymous with Bridgend'

It was impossible to grow up in Bridgend in the 1980s and 1990s without a connection to Ford.

One of your family worked there, you knew someone who worked there, or you were lucky like us and knew Pete, who worked at the factory and did car services on the side.

Even now, in 2020, there are still boys I went to school with working at the plant.

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image captionPrincess Diana pictured driving one of the new Ford Escorts in 1981

The house I grew up in looked down on to the industrial estate and the two big names that for decades now have been synonymous with Bridgend: Sony on the right with its big neon sign, and to the left the sprawling Ford building with its unmistakable oval logo towering above it.

Motown in my home town, the pride of Detroit in south Wales. But how? Why here? Even as a child it seemed pretty incongruous.

But when the deal was struck back in 1977 they were different times.

media captionThe story behind how the Ford engine plant in Bridgend was built between 1977 and 1980.

It came down partly to a personal meeting at Chequers where the then Prime Minister James Callaghan wooed Henry Ford II, grandson of the original Henry.

Wales wanted Ford, and in the end Ford wanted to come. We did not even have the ironic cheek to specify the colour of the factory.

But now Ford - like Sony - is gone. Someone I spoke to this week called it "tragic." Manufacturing they said, is "under immense threat and it will only deteriorate further".

'End of an era'

And the future does look more uncertain than it did back in 1977. It feels pretty hard to take that something which started in the year I was born is now over.

An industry that provided so many jobs when those in coal were starting to burn out.

The end of an era in Welsh manufacturing and despite that concerted wooing 43 years ago, the end of the marriage between Bridgend and Ford.

media captionWorkers react to news that Ford's engine plant will close in 2020

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