THE closure of Honda’s Swindon factory caused one of the biggest mass redundancies in Swindon’s history - but many people from the plant have since started a new career,

Employees around the South Marston site used the two years between the car manufacturer’s surprise announcement and the final day of work to learn new skills and set up their own businesses so they could land on their feet when they left the company.

Lee Craddock from Lyneham began planning his own car valeting and cleaning service Time to Shine just before the car manufacturer bosses told 3,500 employees their time at the factory would be coming to an end. What started as a hobby born from a lifelong love of cars which led to him training as a mechanic and working for Honda in the first place soon grew into a successful business.

Lee said: “It gave me something to tinker with in the afternoons after my shift ended, I started with family and friends’ cars then word spread and Facebook really helped as my name keeps popping up on area noticeboards.

“I was quite lucky to fall on my feet and I didn’t expect it to take off this much, I just wanted to keep myself busy and this was a fun and satisfying way to do that while helping other people.”

Lee credits his time at Honda with giving him the right skills to become his own boss and though the Honda Synchro Motorsport cars were auctioned off, he and another driver have bought their own car to race.

He added: “Cars have been 90 per cent of my life for the last 20 years. We were always busy at the plant so people didn’t have time to think about the closure. Morale was quite high because they were going on to other things, it was a good time for change and to move on to new opportunities.

“I can’t fault Honda, it’s been a big part of my career. I joined thinking I wouldn’t stay long but I enjoyed it so much and they trained me up from an individual mechanic to managing a team of 40 people”

So although his 16 years at the factory in quality assurance is now behind him, he’s hopeful for the future as his start-up grows.

Frank Simons spent a similar amount of time at the plant and decided to go back to his old profession as personal trainer in mid-2019 after the bad news had sunk in.

The 42-year-old started running Frank Fitness on weekends and after shifts as a way of helping people like himself - middle-aged and trying to fit fitness into family life.

He said: “I’m no spring chicken and was worried about that when I began this but I now see it as an advantage but this is a good niche, though I still have a few younger clients in their 20s.

“People think nothing of spending hundreds on booze but hesitate when it’s something that makes them healthier, and the government reopening McDonald’s before gyms was ridiculous and didn’t help the fitness industry.

“Covid almost screwed things up but I kept my clients by doing free online sessions. Most of them have been with me since the beginning, which is amazing.

As well as his fitness sessions, Frank works at a Land Rover garage part-time to provide a reliable source of regular income.

He remembered his last days at Honda: “Many people were off work because of the Covid app pinging them as Honda took that very seriously, fair play, though it created gaps that needed plugging, so I did something different every day for the last two weeks.

“They had everyone at the end of the production line filming, there were presentations, they did it right. It was odd to hand my car back in but no hard feelings, they were the making of me because they taught me a proper work ethic.

“It was surreal and strange because it suddenly dawned on us that this was actually happening but everyone I know found a new job afterwards - window cleaners, carpenters, plumbers, all sorts.

“These jobs might not be as well-paid but there’s fewer hours and less stress. It’s a big thing to come home and go to bed at the same time each day.

“Building this up has been difficult and slow going but success won’t happen overnight, I’m just chipping away at it.”