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Friday August 31

Looking Back: Craigneuk Plastics

Written in 1978, a story about an innovative ecumenical social enterprise starting up in North Lanarkshire


By Dan Ross

A GLASS-FIBRE moulding factory producing everything from Sooty collection boxes to sheep dips for an Inverness-shire hill farmer, is hardly the sort of scene with which you would immediately associate the Church.

But one does exist in Craigneuk, close to Wishaw, and what’s more it is housed in a redundant Kirk and was the brainchild of the local parish minister together with his near-neighbouring Roman Catholic priest.

It is an unlikely tale, made even less credible by the tremendous degree of co-operation between the denominations in an area well-known for sectarianism.

About two years the Rev. Iain Paul, parish minister in Craigneuk was growing increasingly appalled at the high rate of unemployment, recently estimated to be nearly 30 percent, among young people (16-18) in a community of 9000.

He already had a good rapport with local priest Father Kiernan O’Farrell so after consulting his Board, approached him with the idea that they launch a glass-fibre workshop to employ mainly jobless school leavers.

“We wanted to do something for the parish which was non-sectarian and non-political, our getting together was for the sake of the community,” recounts Dr Paul.

And so the scheme got under way, but as its initiator will caution anyone with similar ideas there was an enormous amount of spade work done at the outset.

Glass fibre wasn’t just chosen out of the yellow pages, but arrived at after months of investigating other possibilities, wrestling with cash flow problems and drumming up enough initial working capital to get underway.

Launching capital came from several sources, some unexpected. The Orange Order gave help, a local working men’s club offered cash and several industrial concerns each agreed to buy a glass fibre dinghy at around £600. Craigneuk Plastics, as it eventually became known, was an imaginative idea that generated a great deal of goodwill in its wake.

Finding factory space for such a project could have been an unsurmountable problem but the vacant Craigneuk Parish Church provided an ideal answer.

Negotiations with the General Trustees resulted in a £10,000 valuation payable interest-free over ten years. Government backing was sought and won under the Job Creation Scheme to have the interior stripped and plant installed at a cost of £35,000.

First break

But from the outset Craigneuk Plastics itself was not conceived as job creation. Instead it was to be a workers’ co-operative, offering a reasonable basic wage plus profit sharing for employees.

A trust was formed to include a solicitor, lawyer, MP, councillor, and schoolmaster. District council architects drew up plans and the degree of local support was first class.

Next an experienced factory manager, Mr Douglas Robertson, was appointed and the business of recruiting young people from the area began. The skill of fibre glass moulding is largely a question of aptitude. Each stage in the process is critical, so enthusiasm together with care are two basic essential qualities.

Eventually after much interviewing three candidates were chosen, including a girl and, just to keep the ecumenical balance right, it was agreed that there should be a denominational mix among the workforce.

This happened in August last year and by early this year, despite setbacks, the factory had turned out business amounting to £5000 – cattle troughs, fuel tanks, farming equipment, crane cabins – among other products.

Over the next year Craigneuk Plastics aims to operate free of Government finance with a prospective turn-over upwards of £25,000. Initial production problems overcome, serious marketing is under way and prospects look good.

During 1979 around a dozen jobless Craigneuk teenagers might well find their first break at a craft that could set them up for life, thanks to a caring Church.

If anybody has any information about the history of Craigneuk Plastics we'd love to hear it.

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