Long-service awards are getting scarcer in today’s workplace where longevity is more often measured in months but at Roberts Mart & Co. Ltd, a leading flexible packaging and printing business, an employee has just clocked up more than 40 years service.
Alan Wintersgill has been with Roberts Mart all his working life since walking through the doors of its Bank Mills factory in Leeds in 1970 as a nervous fresh-faced 16-year-old ready to start his first day as an apprentice.
Since then he has experienced several economic downturns and upturns, the three-day week, the effects of different political ‘isms’, modernisation, the computer age and the upheaval of moving from a traditional factory site to a spanking new state-of-art facility – and he says he wouldn’t have missed a minute of it!
Over four decades, through thick and thin, his life has been linked with the fortunes of Roberts Mart and he still shows tremendous enthusiasm, loyalty and respect for the company he joined straight from school.
“I was just a boy when I was taken on. In those days apprenticeships were still a popular route into work for kids leaving school at that age – I was one of a procession at Roberts Mart but I must admit never did I think all that time ago that I would still be here 40 years later,” he says.
Alan, who was rewarded with a watch after completing 25 years at Roberts Mart back in 1995, believes his early days learning on the job were the perfect launch pad for his career at the company.
“It’s a shame that apprenticeships fell out of fashion,” he says. “I suppose unions saw them as cheap labour, while companies baulked at the cost of training up young people only to risk their investment disappearing for a better-paid job elsewhere.
“I’m glad that today apprentices are making a comeback and at Roberts Mart we run two-year in-house apprenticeship courses. I think learning advocates can inspire loyalty and continuation.”
His mentor was chairman John Roberts, who last year celebrated 45 years at the company by handing over the day-to-day management to his two sons Ben and William – the sixth generation of the Roberts family to be in charge.
Alan thinks it is the “family atmosphere” encouraged by the company which inspires loyalty from its staff. He says: “Whoever you are, whatever your role people matter at Roberts Mart and that does make for a dedicated workforce who will rally around when the going does get tough – and I should know having survived four recessions!
“I also think it says a lot about John Roberts and the family. He has been brilliant. He has been the driving force at the company. He employed me as a junior and has encouraged me all the way through my career. I like to think of him as a friend as well as my boss.”
Alan is now Print Supervisor and the changes on the factory floor he has witnessed have left a lasting impression on the 56-year-old. “When I joined it was very labour intensive and physically demanding,” he says. “But new technology and health and safety legislation have changed the environment in the workplace.
“With any machinery you still have to be aware of what’s going on around you, but the technological advances that have taken place have been unbelievable and Roberts Mart has never been afraid to change with the times.
“Forty years ago we were basically making paper bags. Then In the late 70s the company were among the pioneers for printing on polythene and invested in a four-colour flexographic printer which was quite radical for the time. Next were six-colour printers, converting machines and slitter rewinders. Now we can print in 10 colours and can turn out around 500,000m of printed film a day.
“Customer expectations are also higher. Back in the old days the artwork was very basic but computers have changed all that and designs come in all sorts of formats. Clients want more attractive packaging so that it stands out on shelves but are also much more knowledgeable and have more input than they did before.”
A significant sea change came in 2004 when Roberts Mart uprooted from its landmark site of 76 years at Bank Mills on the Leeds waterfront, a place that still holds fond memories for Alan, to a new modern facility on the outskirts of the city at Thornes Farm Way.
“In the last six years the company has taken huge strides forward and invested where other companies haven’t. Recently we purchased a Fischer & Krecke 14S press which features ‘smartGPS’, a graphic positioning system with automatic registration – a far cry from the days of levers and gears!”
Alan has taken all the changes in his stride and he was delighted to be given a large framed print of the former site at Banks Mill by John Roberts at the presentation to mark his milestone.
Sales Director Ben Roberts and Chairman John Roberts led the tributes to Alan, saying: “He has been a real stalwart at Roberts Mart and his type is the backbone of any company. To complete 40 years service at one place is a remarkable achievement and we hope he will continue to play a part in our success for years to come.
“Innovation is at the heart of our business as is a continued investment programme which has resulted in one of the best, most modern equipped flexographic facilities in the UK. But ultimately we are only as good as the people we employ and Alan is testament to that.”
Roberts Mart has spent almost £13million over the last six years as part of an ongoing expansion programme to meet growing demand for its film printing and packaging services.
Established in 1852, Roberts Mart is a major player in the printed collation shrink sector and is continually developing specialised high performance films for a variety of sectors which deliver full operational characteristics, in terms of clarity, gloss and strength, whilst minimising gauge.
From its humble beginnings as a paper merchant, Roberts Mart is at the forefront of flexible printing and packaging, helped by loyal staff such as Alan Wintersgill who best summed up the company’s progress and his own part in it by saying: “It’s been a long road but it has gone very fast.”