Luck runs out for lottery winners as factory closure hits Welsh village

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The Independent Online

The workforce of a small factory near a Welsh mining village entered last week in a euphoric mood, their thoughts dominated by the £4.4m lottery jackpot at their disposal. But that same close-knit community was left riven yesterday as their luck appeared to have run out.

The workforce of a small factory near a Welsh mining village entered last week in a euphoric mood, their thoughts dominated by the £4.4m lottery jackpot at their disposal. But that same close-knit community was left riven yesterday as their luck appeared to have run out.

John Evans and his colleagues at the Houghton plc lubricants plant near the mist-shrouded village of Hirwaun, 30 miles north of Cardiff, found themselves brought down to earth by the reality of hard economics, when their bosses told them the factory would close as a result of their win.

Instead of mulling over the desirable quandary of whether to continue working after the sudden injection of riches provided by a lottery win, the entire 'lucky' 17-strong workforce appears to be facing the dole.

Senior executives at the plant told staff this week that it could not cope after the resignation of two syndicate members, provoking a mood in stark contrast to that which prevailed when the workers found out they were each to receive a £259,129.76 share of the top prize after playing the National Lottery twice a week since its beginning five years ago.

Such was the enthusiasm and loyalty of the Houghton employees, they agreed to postpone their celebrations after the midweek Lottery win on August 9 to complete a vital order in time for delivery.

Father of five, Mr Evans, 40,described the mixture of elation and determination that normality should be preserved, saying: "I immediately burst into tears. We'd been having some financial problems and it came as such a relief.

"I had been telling my children they would have to start paying their way with telephone bills and things and all of a sudden that went out of the window. But we all love our work and contemplating finishing was the furthest thing from all our minds."

Staff face an choice between relocating to plants in South Wales or the Houghton plc headquarters in Manchester. The other alternative is a standard redundancy package.

Most members of staff, including Mr Evans, had by last night received a warning not to discuss their predicament with the media. Others were prepared to reveal their despair as they contemplated a move from the area where they grew up.

One member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "It has been an emotional roller-coaster. First there was the giddy elation of winning a quarter of a million pounds.

"But the thought of giving up work did not even cross my mind - it sounds a huge sum but it would not sustain you for a lifetime. The company has basically spotted an opportunity to shut us down and gone for it. I genuinely wish we hadn't won."

Houghton plc said it expected 90 per cent of its Hirwaun workers to accept the offer of relocation as it revealed that just two members of staff had taken the redundancy offer. The company, whose Hirwaun factory has been in operation for 20 years, insisted the loss of the two senior production staff at the plant had made the situation irretrievable.

Employing 350 people across the country, it supplies processing fluids for the metal industry, including Corus, formerly British Steel. The plant in South Wales had been involved in testing a new product at a local steelworks.

Paul Miller, Houghton's 52-year-old chief executive and chairman, said: "Two key members of staff handed in their notice and we cannot just take workers off the streets, it is a highly skilled operation. We have had to make the right decision for the future of the company as a whole."

It is a blow that Hirwaun, at the heart of a once flourishing coal-mining area, could have done without. Unemployment in the area run at 8.1 per cent compared to a Welsh average of 5.6 per cent. Joblessness among men is even higher at 10.9 per cent of those of working age.

The decision to shut the Houghton plant has provoked sharp criticism from politicians.Pauline Jarman, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taff Council and Welsh Assembly member for the Hirwaun area, said: "Frankly, it cannot be impossible to train two members of staff in order to retain the jobs of 15 others. We can ill-afford to lose this sort of highly-skilled and well-paid work."

The local authority is seeking talks with bosses at Houghton plc to persuade them to reconsider their decision.

For one member of the syndicate the news of the closure of the factory will be a particularly bitter blow. Lee Bowditch, a 26-year-old technical sales representative at Houghton, left for his honeymoon a day after the jackpot win. He will return next weekend to the news that he may no longer have a job. A relative said yesterday: "It just goes to show money can't buy everything."

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