Barnoldswick sees 500 jobs axed by chief employer Rolls-Royce

Town that’s had its heart ripped out: Barnoldswick (population 11,000) sees 500 jobs axed by chief employer Rolls-Royce in a brutal snapshot of the economic devastation across the UK

  • News that Rolls-Royce is to axe 350 jobs in Barnoldswick comes as a betrayal
  • It was there RAF officer Sir Frank Whittle developed the first jet engine
  • The letter ‘B’ in the ‘RB’ designation on jet engines stands for Barnoldswick

Ask any resident of Barnoldswick in Lancashire where they live, and they’ll tell you: ‘Barlick’. They will insist most robustly, despite some boundary changes nearly 50 years ago, that their market town is actually in Yorkshire.

And they might well tell you, too, how proud they are to be associated with the prestigious name of Rolls-Royce, which has been making jet engines in Barnoldswick for more than 75 years. 

It was here that the legendary designer and RAF officer Sir Frank Whittle developed the jet engine, an invention that surely changed the world.

Such is the town’s input that the letter ‘B’ in the ‘RB’ designation on hundreds of the company’s jet engines over many decades stands for Barnoldswick.

So the news that Rolls-Royce, with a global reputation for both quality and dependability, is to axe 350 jobs in the town comes not merely as a blow, but as a betrayal.

Barnoldswick’s picturesque town centre could suffer badly from the job losses. Such is the town’s input that the letter ‘B’ in the ‘RB’ designation on hundreds of Rolls-Royce jet engines over many decades stands for Barnoldswick

The aerospace giant – which has announced a £5.4 billion loss for the first half of this year and has also cut jobs in Derby and Renfrewshire – says that ‘our number one priority is to provide support to our employees and their families’.

But many in the town remain unconvinced. Most are still reeling from the news that much of the production which has been carried out here for generations will be moved to a factory 6,000 miles away in Singapore.

Two hundred jobs had already been axed in June – and the combined loss of more than 500 posts is a devastating setback to a community of just 11,000 people.

‘People have travelled from this factory to Singapore to help establish this new factory and now we see production being offshored to Singapore,’ the local Conservative MP, Andrew Stephenson, said.

And what is happening to Barnoldswick will undoubtedly happen in hundreds – if not thousands – of other small towns up and down Britain, as the economic devastation wrought by the lockdown hits hard.

The latest estimates suggest 730,000 UK jobs have already been lost since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Many are linked to airlines – British Airways expects to lose up to 12,000 staff, with easyJet and Ryanair close behind.

High street stalwart Marks & Spencer is to lose 7,000 employees, Boots will slash 4,000 posts while John Lewis is closing eight stores and could cut 1,300 of its staff. 

A Rolls-Royce worker with the company’s MT30 engine. Whether Barnoldswick can recover from this blow remains to be seen. But everybody knows that the future – whether in terms of the direct threat posed by Covid, or its indirect effects on the economy – is far from secure

The lockdown has been particularly serious for the Rolls-Royce engines business as it is paid according to the number of hours flown by the airlines it supplies.

Flying hours accounted for £4 billion, or a quarter of the Rolls group revenue last year.

While, on the surface, this pretty town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales may look peaceful and content, its residents are anything but.

‘Everyone is angry,’ says Kyle Crawford, a builder. ‘It’s said that 20 per cent of the town is employed there – now they are moving things abroad. I have two cousins working there and they are very worried.’

Shopkeeper Gillian Farrelly, 63, recalls: ‘You used to get a job at Rolls and it was for life. A father would work there and then the son would join when he left school. The pensions were amazing.

‘It has always been a big, big part of Barnoldswick. But it has dwindled in size. In the last few years there have been voluntary redundancies and compulsory redundancies. Now everyone is terrified.’

Mrs Farrelly, who owns Bonjour Cards and Gifts, says job cuts are a particularly cruel blow for a town which is ‘on the road to nowhere’. 

She explains: ‘We are not on any major road linking big towns and cities. So nobody needs to come into Barnoldswick – we rely on quite a high footfall of local trade.’

As a result, Mandy Boardman, 50, who owns a smart takeaway food shop called Barlic Bites, estimates she’ll lose up to £300 a day. ‘A lot of our customers come from Rolls-Royce,’ says Mrs Boardman, who has been in business for 13 years. ‘This is the last thing I need.’

Pet groomer Helen Turner, 48, agrees. ‘We were hit hard by the recession 11 years ago. It was bad then, but after the pandemic and now this, it is a disaster.’

The lockdown has been particularly serious for the Rolls-Royce engines business as it is paid according to the number of hours flown by the airlines it supplies (file image)

Florist Melissa Beckley, 45, is similarly gloomy. ‘Everyone has a family member or someone they know working for them,’ she says. ‘It is going to have a knock-on effect on shops in the town. Flowers are a luxury item – the first thing to go – so it will have an effect on me.’

More tight-lipped are the Rolls-Royce employees themselves. A Friday night tour of Barnoldswick’s working men’s clubs found an unwillingness to openly criticise the company.

‘They’re afraid of management,’ said one drinker at the Green Street Club. One former employee, unwilling to be named, sighed: ‘There are no planes flying are there? So it’s to be expected.’

That doesn’t make it any easier to digest. If further evidence were needed as to how tightly integrated the historic company is with the town, you only have to look at Rolls-Royce Leisure club on Skipton Road. There is a restaurant, bar, hall, gym, and bowling green. After the market square, it’s the second heart of the community.

At present it is closed because of coronavirus. But now, many fear it may not reopen at all. Further down the Skipton Road is the site of the Rolls-Royce factory itself on Ghyll Row. Its doors will close permanently, its operations merged with Bankfield, the other site in town.

It is a particularly poignant moment for the local mayor, Councillor Ken Hartley. In a few days’ time, it will be 60 years since he began his career as an apprentice at Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick.

‘Over those 60 years Rolls-Royce has become the world leader in engine technology,’ he muses. ‘The unique high skills of the local workers in the factories, and in the sub-contract companies, are the basis of that success.’

Whether Barnoldswick can recover from this blow remains to be seen. But everybody knows that the future – whether in terms of the direct threat posed by Covid, or its indirect effects on the economy – is far from secure.

There are no fools here. Everybody recognises it is one thing to refuse the changing of a boundary. It is quite another not to accept the changing of the world.

Additional reporting: Alun Palmer 

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