Steve Houseman’s vivid memory of walking into the Cowley car works as a teenager more than 40 years ago was the sheer scale of the sprawling factory.

Back in the late 1970s the plant, then spanning both sides of the ring road, was roughly four times the size of the modern Mini plant.

He said: “There were also more people here back then and I remember it seemed like everyone came to work on their bicycles. It was like a small town.”

In September 1978 he began as a business technician apprentice in the production control department.

“My first job was to record the movement of parts into and out of the factory. It was all done manually – recording postings on ledgers that were stored in large metal cabinets.

“There was little in the way of automation, no computers, not even a photocopier in the office.

“And communication back then was very different. We only had desk telephones – no texts, no email, no skyping or anything like that. Written communication was selective and carefully thought about before you put pen to paper.

“That said, most communication was by word of mouth and relied on people meeting face to face. Today communication is much faster and dynamic. This has clear benefits, but I think it’s important to always make the effort to have personal contact with people – it really helps with maintaining good working relationships.”

Steve, 57, from Steventon, who has just retired, was latterly responsible for the ‘lean manufacturing programme team’, who help implement an efficient production system across the factory.

“This basically means that everything we do has value and is carried out in the most efficient and logical way.”

He said in the past the main focus was sometimes not on building quality cars. He said: “There wasn’t as deep an understanding of how to adapt and refine the manufacturing processes, or the central importance of quality assurance – the focus was on building as many cars as possible.”

But he said the main change he had seen over the years was a shift from a ‘them and us’ worker-boss mentality to a working environment that is more open, accessible and based on trust and respect.

He said: “Now everyone, regardless of their position, is valued equally as an integral part of the team.

“When I started work, the UK industry was often in the midst of regular strikes and industrial unrest and at times it felt like conflict was the order of the day.

“Today it’s much more about working together and finding common ground – with the main objective of making our company competitive and providing Mini customers with the highest quality cars we can.”

Steve said: “The factory was and continues to be an amazing place to work – it’s so diverse and dynamic.

“However, above all, it is the people who work here that make this place so special. They are dedicated, clever at what they do and have a great sense of humour. I’ll certainly miss it.”