Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant has been making cars since the days of the first-generation viva. Its most recent triumph was the new astra, now european car of the year 2016

Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire employs approximately 2,000 people and has built an impressive 3,879,459 New Astras (at the time of going to press). With 2,680 cars getting through production every week, it’s a fast-paced environment to work in. We spoke to Jamie Craig, Area Manager for General Assembly, about his role and what Ellesmere Port means to him.
 
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How long have you worked at Ellesmere Port?
I started as an apprentice in August 1981, so 35 years this year. I’m now the Area Manager for General Assembly and I’ve pretty much covered the gamut of the management roles through the organisation in between.

What does your role involve?
General assembly is where we do the final build-up of the vehicle from a painted body shell, so on a day-to-day basis, my team and I are responsible for making sure our people are carrying out their jobs properly. The only way we can produce high-quality cars is by every single person in the unit doing their job properly – and the most important people in that process are the operators.
 
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What’s your favourite part of it?
Definitely the diversity of running a high-speed manufacturing environment, because things change – they can change hour by hour, but it’s generally day by day. It’s always challenging, but it’s also really rewarding, because our people are the biggest asset we’ve got, and being out on the shop floor and interacting with them is just massively rewarding.

Do you have friends or family also working at the plant?
I’ve got two brothers who work here. My dad died in service 30 years ago now, but he’d been at Vauxhall for over 20 years, since it opened. I also have a niece who works in the HR department. It’s a bit of a family business for us!
 
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How important is the Ellesmere Port factory to the local area?
It’s a fundamental part of the fabric of the local community. Everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody who works in Ellesmere Port. We regularly recruit from the local area – we have an apprentice scheme, which is one of the best in the north-west and we turn out some very highly-skilled people. We have a massive supplier community as well, to keep a huge plant of this size in constant motion. All those people spend their money in the local area, so the knock-on effect is to share that wealth even wider, meaning that the impact on the local area is huge.

Do you feel proud to be representing a British brand making cars in the UK?
We’re proud to be British and proud to be Vauxhall – we’re one of the oldest car-producing companies in the world. All the history and tradition that’s associated with that level of continuity of our brand is something we’re all proud of.
I guess even more so now, because we have a fabulous line-up of cars in the portfolio, and some of them were designed by a Brit, Mark Adams, who’s the lead designer for the company. So doubly so, from that point of view.
 
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How did you feel when New Astra was named European Car of the Year?
In all honesty, it was a real feather in our cap. A huge amount of hard work has gone into getting the car and the plant ready for the launch – for what’s been credited as the best launch in the history of General Motors – so that was no small thing on its own. The reward for that was to see the car recognised for the brilliant quality levels we managed to produce as a team. Now, people come to Ellesmere Port to understand how they can do it the Ellesmere Port way, so that gives us a real sense of pride in our plant and in our people and what we’ve achieved.

How has the plant changed?
Where do you start? In 35 years, I’ve seen a bit! There’s a lot of automation now, which makes it very efficient in how we produce cars, but for me the biggest change is in the people and the application of our GMS production system. We now make more cars at a better quality level with fewer people than we’ve ever made in our history. The plant is safer, it’s cleaner, it’s more environmentally friendly than we’ve ever been. It’s peoples’ attitudes, the way we train people, the amount of effort we put into our workforce, the amount of effort we put into engaging them to be part of the business, that’s the single biggest part that’s changed for me.