As Anjali arrived at the front of the Wetledale Weaving Mill, later that day, there was a police car parked in one of the visitors’ parking spaces. There were two firemen packing a firehose away onto a fire engine, which was standing outside the open shutter of one of the three weaving sheds.
Eileen, now dressed in a plain working suit, led Anjali from the security gate to a meeting room, its door to the left of a rusted coffee machine in the reception area. On the way, they passed through the largest of the warehouses, crossing the edge of the machine floor. The mechanical tenacity of the weaving machines rattled in their ears. She followed Eileen along the floor markings. The yellow lines guided them behind the largest of the machines, and Anjali could sense the rough cloth it was producing.
‘We have had to call off this afternoon’s review meeting,’ said Eileen as soon as the meeting room door was shut against the noise of the weaving machines, although Anjali could still feel their vibration through the table.
‘We have had a small fire in one of the weaving sheds – the one we will be shutting. It is a bit too much of a coincidence. There is an understandable belief amongst the production managers that it was started deliberately. We will have to wait and see what the fire investigation service company reports.’
She poured Anjali some plain water from a jug on the table.
‘The General Manager asked me to meet with you,’ Eileen said, ‘and give you a briefing so that you know where we are.’
She looked down at some notes she had made on a pad of lined paper.
‘We have received confirmation, just this morning, that we can make the changes we suggested at the Board of Directors Meeting.’
‘They have accepted the proposals from the presentation?’ Anjali asked.
‘Err – yes and no,’ Eileen replied, hesitated and then added hurriedly, evidently keen to stress that this was an important point that needed to be made, ‘It is good news really.’
Eileen returned to her notes again.
‘The Danish family have decided not to close the mill, just some of the underused machines. Production of more refined fabrics will transfer to one of the Group’s other mills; but much of the basic production we will keep here. Our older machines are all written out of the accounts, and are well suited to low cost contracts. We also have lower wage costs than the other mills in the Group. We are a relatively remote site you see.’
She turned over the page of her notepad; then finding that she had already covered that point, turned the page again.
‘It is very likely that we will shut one of the weaving sheds; although that shed could well be reequipped at some stage. The Factory Manager is shocked that employees from Wetledale should be reacting negatively to what is actually good news. And should this warehouse fire have been a deliberate act, he is of course also concerned at how quickly the news of the closing of the weaving shed got out. This is a small valley. We need to work as one if we are to do well here.
The Factory Manager has called an emergency meeting to discuss how we manage the messaging of the coming changes.’
Eileen looked down at her notes again, apparently trying to make sense of what she had written.
‘It is perhaps a strange thing to say, but we are fortunate that this is such a cold and damp valley with a river that adds to its humidity. It is ideal for spinning and weaving wool, and being on the edge of things our wages are lower. We are very competitive and capable weavers of wool.’
Eileen smiled with the warmth of a mannequin.
‘Sheep wool always processes very cleanly in the damp air of Wetledale valley. In the view of our managers, it is that capability that was the deciding factor for the Danish Family Board. We carry out coarse weaving of sheep wool in the larger of the weaving sheds; for coats and capes and flannel with a plain or twill weave. The military is a good customer.’
She looked down at her notes again and, as she did, ran over the same lines.
‘There are places that are just right for some things,’ she said again. It reminded Anjali of the repeated stitching that secures a vulnerable button in place on the exposed front of a coat.
‘Wetledale and wool were made for each other. I think it just took the Danish Chairman a little time to realise that.’
It seemed, to Anjali, that a stream of confusing and contradictory information was flowing over her.
‘The Danish Board was surely convinced by the excellent presentation that the Factory Manager gave,’ she said, emphasising the ‘surely convinced.’
‘It is hard to know what it is that decides these things,’ responded Eileen, her words drifting away towards the end.
Then she added more definitively, ‘It seems that the family was already thinking of transferring the red headed lady to run their German production site.’
She looked up and added with sincerity strapped around her every word, ‘Our Factory Manager is very appreciative of what you have done for him – for all of us. Your work will always receive acknowledgment in this company.’
Eileen came to the end of the scribbling on the pages of her note book. She flipped the pages over so that a clean and empty page was now on top.
‘Sheep wool always processes very cleanly in the damp air of Wetledale valley,’ she said, summarising again the essential point. ‘We hope to be producing all of the wool-based materials for the Danish group here in time. We need to get that right. That is the Factory Manager’s absolute priority.’
Eileen rose from her seat, indicating that this meeting had reached its conclusion.
‘I am sure that you will be hearing from us in the future. Our Factory Manager has often reminded the office staff of the importance of using every tool that we have to influence outcomes that will construct a solid future for the Wetledale Weaving Mill.’