Oral History: Cooperative Voices – Connie Forster

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CWS Voices 2015

Interview notes for Constance (Connie) Foster, Pelaw Drugs and Drysaltery

Interviewer Howarth Harvey 22nd of January, 2014. Pelaw Library

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives

Connie was born in 1934 on the 22nd of July in Felling at 68, Back High St. They lived above Shepherds. This street no longer exists.

Connie went to school in Aller(?) Park, then High Board where the doctor’s surgery is now, until the age of 15. On leaving school, Connie first went to work in a cleaner’s shop in (indistinct) and worked there for a year and a half. She got the job through a friend.

Connie left the cleaner’s shop to work at the CWS. The reason for the move was better money at the CWS. To get the job, she had to attend an interview in the office.

She went to work in the ‘drugs’, the name for the Saltery. She first filled the flour. The contents were weighed automatically, the top was folded over and then glued from a pot beside her and finally pressed down. She also went on to fill the peas and the gravy salt tins. There were two or three others doing the same job and she could be swopped from one to another.

Connie was asked if she had to weigh the contents of the tin. She replied that this was done by someone else before her. She just filled the tins and then put the lids on. The lids often had sharp edges and she would cut herself every now and then.

Work would start at 8.00am; there was a tea-break mid-morning. At lunch time she would run up to the CWS dining hall to try and get there before the people from other factories arrived. At lunch times none of the locals would be on the main street because of all the people coming out of the factories to get their lunch. You had to pay for your lunch. Connie didn’t think it was subsidised. The meals were good.

Work would finish at 5.00pm and Connie worked from Monday to Friday. She was sometimes supervised by a man, sometimes by a woman. Connie thought the treatment she got from the supervisors was fair.

There were no new products or machines to get used to or to be trained up on during the 3 years she was working there.

She did not remember being a member of a union.

When asked if she had considered moving on to any of the other CWS factories sited in Pelaw, Connie said she didn’t because she met her husband in the Saltery. Her husband was the person that would fill the machines with the different products down chutes.

She started employment at the Saltery at the age of 17 in 1951 and worked there for a total of 3 years before leaving to be married. Her husband who she met at the Saltery said she could not continue working after they got married.

Connie was able to walk to work as by then she was living in St Cuthbert’s Drive.

There were the odd times when Connie got involved in social events at work such as bus trips to various places but there was no activity which she went to regularly. The trips used to be on work days rather than Saturday or Sunday.

There were no perks on the foodstuffs for the employees of the Saltery.

Connie did sometimes buy food from the Co-op in Pelaw but didn’t use the furniture shop to set up house as she moved into her husband’s house which was already furnished.

After working in CWS, Connie didn’t go into any other full time employment although there was a period when the boys were growing up that she went to work part time at Woolworths stacking shelves and working in the stock room. This work was different from the CWS but she got on just as well with the people in Woolworths and CWS. She still maintains contact with some of them. She now lives right next to the library and comes to the coffee mornings on Wednesdays where there are also others who worked in the CWS.

Asked why she thought the Pelaw factories started closing down, Connie replied that they were not selling the stuff in the shops that they used to. There was a change to how food was bought and they weren’t buying the sort of goods that the CWS produced.

Connie still remembered her dividend number, No.18! She inherited the number from her mother. She remembers going with her mother to the Windy Nook shop. There was a man who used to come every week for the order and then it was delivered.

Her mother’s sister also worked at the CWS in the polish. She filled the polish tins downstairs. She is now 92. She also left to get married.