By Mick Jensen
It might have closed its doors 30 years ago, but Lois Hill and Elaine Long, still hold fond memories of their days working in the Ashburton Skellerup factory.
The factory was located at the site currently occupied by VetEnt in the Riverside Industrial Estate and employed 40 workers at its peak. Over 80 staff were employed there between 1975 and 1987.
Elaine started at the factory when it opened and was on the payroll at the end, with only a short stint away in between. Lois joined the workforce in November 1978, stayed until the end and was one of the factory’s supervisors.
The pair have kept in touch over the years and Elaine holds an impressive list of workmates’ names and other information like photos from her time at the factory.
“We’ve put the word out about a reunion and interest has been shown from around 50 former staff, which is pretty impressive all these years on.
“We know 17 have passed on and we’re keen to extend the invitation to anyone we might have forgotten,” said Elaine.
The reunion was a chance to catch up, have a laugh and reminisce about earlier working lives, said Lois.
“It was all women in the factory in those days, with the exception of the visiting maintenance man and the delivery man from Christchurch who bought the materials we assembled and took away the sewn items.
“We had a mix of staff that included school leavers keen to learn new skills, experienced machinists and others involved in inspection, packing and cafeteria jobs.”
The Skellerup factory assembled a number of products ranging from oilskin jackets, leggings and bush shirts in the early days, through to weld seamed pvc clothing and fleece clothing in later years.
Specialist items included white golf jackets, wrap around skirts, police jackets and chef jackets.
“I can still picture the colours and styles of some even now,” said Lois.
Another incident that springs to mind for Lois was a big fire in the nearby Ashburton Riverbed in the 1980s, when all nearby businesses were evacuated.
“We returned to work the next day and received a visit from the firemen, who wanted to check if we were all right.
“The firemen had holes and rips in their clothing from fighting the fire, so we did the right thing, and set about repairing them all.”
Both Lois and Elaine agree that their years in the factory were “good times, with plenty of laughs”.
“We worked hard, had the usual tantrums and dramas in the factory, and the odd practical joke, but all in all it was very positive.
“We had an active social club and quite a few memorable parties,” said Elaine.
The Skellerup factory reunion will be held in the Doris Linton Lounge at the Ashburton RSA on November 18.
The celebration runs from 11.30am until 2pm and the $15 charge covers lunch and venue hire.