When she left school for the last time on Friday, 29th January 1971, 15 year old Helen Pettigrew from Greenock, had little time to feel nervous about starting her first job the following Monday, with local firm Sangamo – manufacturer of specialist time switches and heating controls. Fast forward half a decade and Helen has clocked up an impressive 50 years’ service with Sangamo – hanging up her work overall for the very last time on Tuesday, 2nd February 2021.
Along with five other new recruits, Helen started work on the Sangamo production line, where she had a vital part to play in the production and assembly of Sangamo’s Round Pattern Time Switches. Sangamo has been manufacturing its famous Round Pattern Time Switches since the early 1950s. Much like loyal employee Helen, these switches have more than stood the test of time. More than 11 million units have been sold to date and because the original design has never needed to be updated, a time switch you buy today is completely interchangeable with one bought decades ago.
Whilst the product that Helen worked on may have seen little change over the decades, the same can’t be said of Helen, who has witnessed many events on a local, national, and global scale. She became lifelong friends with some of her closest work colleagues, met and married her husband Billy, a shipbuilder with Ferguson Marine, and attended the weddings of many of her own friends and family. She saw the size of the Sangamo workforce reduced from the many hundreds when she first started, to the 19 that are employed there today, as new machinery, technology and changing working patterns were introduced.
It was when she was furloughed during the first coronavirus lockdown last year that she decided she wanted to spend more time sharing the care of her elderly mum with her sister and soon her retirement plans became reality.
It is testimony to the ethos of the Sangamo business that Helen is not alone in reaching such a remarkable milestone in her career. She is joined by four good friends who are each on their way to earning their 50 years’ service recognition. Pat McCloy joined the company in September 1973 and has over 48 years under her belt, Sandra McKirdy joined the following April 1974, and will soon be approaching 48 years employment, while Ellen McGachey and Elizabeth Diedrich are celebrating 44 years with the company.
When asked to sum up her time at Sangamo, Helen had this to say: “I could never have imagined when I came here for my interview back in 1971, that I would be happily working for the same company, on the same production line, with some of the same close friends 50 years later. I can honestly say that I have really enjoyed every day working here. I would describe us as one big happy family. From day one I was made to feel like an important part of the company. I have made so many great friends and have always been fully supported by the different managers along the way. Obviously, there is a big part of me that will be sad to say my goodbyes and clock out for the final time. It still doesn’t feel real somehow.”
Sangamo managing director, Steve Taylor, said: “I only got to know Helen three years ago when the Scolmore Group – the company that currently owns Sangamo – took over the business. She was smiling the first time I saw her and was always very friendly and chatty and had time for everyone. I only wish I’d known her for longer. It’s incredible to think that she has walked in and out of the same door for the past 50 years. She’ll be missed by everyone here. I wish her and Billy a long and happy retirement together.”
Sangamo was acquired by Scolmore Group in 2018 and the Sangamo range of specialist time switches and heating controls became part of the ESP portfolio of products at this time.