“I was a forklift driver and just took the payout,” he tells me. “I did loads of jobs after that, and in this last lockdown I became a self-employed van driver for Amazon. I’m worried about the wave of unskilled labour coming onto the market and what kind of jobs Panattoni is going to bring. Do we need more warehousing?”
A theme is emerging here. Does the local parish council chairman have better news? I’d contacted Colin McEwen the day before, and we’d arranged to meet near his home in South Marston village.
“The biggest employer in the town is actually Nationwide, so Honda’s closing will just be a ripple,” he says. “It’s the opportunity the closure represents that’s important. For a long time, Swindon’s planners have talked about building a high-tech science park on this side of Swindon, linked to Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Bristol. It could be concentrated on the old Honda site and push out to Oxford and Newbury, but my concern is that Panattoni might develop more warehousing offering low-skilled and low-paid jobs.”
My visit to Highworth, a town four miles away and the home of TS Tech, a maker of car seats that it supplies to Honda, is equally discouraging – but for another reason. The company’s buildings dominate the Blackworth Industrial Estate, and its workers’ Honda Civics line the roads. Trying to find the reception building, I catch the attention of an employee through the fencing. “We’re being made redundant in July,” he tells me. “Not long ago, we were making 400 seats a day, but when Honda announced it was closing, we knew we would be next. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing.”