It’s hard for me to catch a moment with Phylis. Even though she has been told I’ll be popping up to see her this afternoon, she is so immersed in her work that she barely notices my approach until, eventually, she looks up at me and a surprised laugh chimes through the air. It’s as if I have caught her off guard yet she quickly offers me a seat and asks what I’d like to know. With a woman as warm as she is and with such experience, where do you start? Well, I suppose, at the beginning.
You’ve been with Cheaney for 34 years now Phylis, but what did you do before you came to the factory?
I worked in a factory in closing for a while after I left school and then I went to work on a Mushroom farm. It was hard work, filling the trays and I used to drive the van around as well! I came to Cheaney because it was closer to home and back then, you could walk out of a job and straight in to another. You just turn up and if you get the job, you start the following week. Although I applied for a job in the clicking room and there were two of us, they ended up giving it to the other girl but offered me a job in the Closing room.
So you haven’t always been in the Clicking room? What did you do in Closing?
Oh my, everything and anything! I did taping, sticking sides, lots of things really. Luckily someone eventually left the Clicking room and I was offered the job.
And what is it you’re doing at the moment?
I’m marking where the stitching and the eyelets will go on the leather.
It takes a lot of concentration and you work so quickly, have you always been quite nifty with making things? You don’t knit by any chance do you?
Not at all! [laughs] My whole family has worked in shoe making, my mother worked with her hands putting buckles in to shoes and I can’t quite remember what my dad or brother did but they both worked in a shoe factory as well.
Do your children work in shoe factories? Are they carrying on the tradition?
No, my daughter looks after children with autism, she’s doing very well and my son lives in Mexico. He’s a lorry driver like his dad.
But I bet with such experience you’ve taught a fair few people the ropes over the years?
Oh yes, I’ll help people out, show them what to do if I can.
I know a lady should never reveal her age however, you’ve told me that you’re 78 years old which I still can’t quite believe and you still work full time. Have you ever considered retiring or going part time even?
No, I think that when I feel like the time is right, I’d think about retiring, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. All my family were workers, we work and I come from that type of family you know? I’m on my own now and I really like my job and the people I work with, of course, there’s some people I like more than others! It’s just nice coming to work and keeping busy, and being around other people. I like it too much. Maybe one day I’ll retire but no, not yet.