I do not remember much of the mechanics of that late September day in 1992 when we were all called together at the Wantage site of BNF-Fulmer to be told that the company was in immediate receivership, we were all redundant, and that we would not be receiving any monies for the time that we had worked in September. I do clearly remember however that, that evening I, Christa, my wife, and our two boys were due to meet up at Sir William Borlase’s School to look round the facilities. The school was my younger son’s (Alex) first choice should he pass the ‘12+ exam’, which he did and went on to attend the same school as his elder brother.
I made the decision not to say anything about the redundancy during the visit to the school- so as not to cast a shadow over Alex’s day- instead waiting until we were back home to tell the family, having forewarned Christa of the news. I do not think it meant much to the boys at the time, but Christa obviously realised the implications.
The next couple of weeks went in a whirl, as I sorted out what money was likely to be coming in from the various government protection schemes, signed on the local job centre, then sorted out various benefits that we and the children would be entitled to, and started to look for potential employment, which proved to be almost non-existent at this stage of the severe, 1992 economic-depression. I can also recall making an appointment with my local bank manger (remember them?) where I asked for a covering loan, and had to answer ‘nothing’ when he queried my income. I was however able to list the monies that I would eventually receive and he found a way of letting me have money, as and when needed, at the lowest possible interest rate.
As the days passed, the slow realisation that I could be out of work for some period was accompanied by learning that all of my colleagues from Technical Services were starting work at ERA technology. I began to question my own capability, wondering (a little bit enviously) as to why they had been employed and I had not. Slowly, but inexorably, began a downward spiral, and looking back I was definitely not a pleasant person to live with. Throughout this period Christa remained loving, supportive and positive, and helped me see how much greater was what I had still had, compared to what had been lost. From then on, being redundant was not an easy road but one we were able to travel together. The boys still recall collecting apples from the trees on the local common to make German apple cake, and having numerous meals of jacket potatoes accompanied by cheese, baked beans or sausages. Help from family and friends included boxes of various food treats that we would not have been able to buy, and new clothes for the children at a time when they were growing so fast.
Do not believe the newspaper stories of the life of luxury that accompanies being on benefits. It was hard and is even harder now, with housing benefit for example not kicking in until after three months have passed.
Late in June the following year I applied for the position Materials Adviser in the Materials Information Service (MIS) at the Design Council, and was fortunate enough to be chosen from a number of other candidates- a real boost to my confidence. I have always recognised that my strength was as a problem solver, not a manager. In this role, I initially provided advice on materials selection to industry and, on many occasions and until my retirement, was still regularly involved with identifying the cause of in-field failures or production problems. In 1994 the MIS was transferred to the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, as it eventually became, and although the nature of my role expanded in scope, it always remained an enjoyable challenge.
Why The Best Of Times? Looking back, it demonstrated that Christa and I could live in close company for 16 hours a day, seven days a week; being at home when the kids returned from school meant I was there when they most wanted to chat and improved my relationship with them at an important stage of their life; the recognition of support from family, friends and neighbours; an eventual career role that further developed my skills across a number of fields whilst also giving me the flexibility to work from home when appropriate; and finally, avoiding the grinding 1-2 hour commute of driving around the M25 each morning and evening that my former work colleagues had to endure for some years.