‘Please tell me no-one is working tonight’

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IT WAS an incongruous and compelling image.

Standing in spring sunshine early yesterday morning, a huddle of stunned Bridgehaugh Dyeworks staff looked on in disbelief at the twisted, smoking wreckage of their erstwhile workplace.

Some had been due to begin their early shift at 6am, others were due to start two hours later. Even the 2pm backshift guys, having heard the news, had come down to see for themselves the devastation which has, almost certainly, ended their careers.

It was shared camaraderie which has been such a feature of their normal working day that was much in evidence.

“You guys would do anything to get a day off work,” shouted a local wag from a passing lorry in Buccleuch Road.

The workers’ laughter at the black humour which is the stock in trade of Souters, betrayed their utter shock.

“It’s utterly devastating,” said dyer Dave Cottrell, the backshift manager, who had received a call from his son just after 3am.

“The first words he said were: ‘Dad, please tell me that no-one is working tonight’ – and I explained there was no nightshift.”

Dave was on the scene within half an hour.

“I’d locked up the factory just after midnight and everything was in order – just as it should be.

Yet three hours later, the whole place, from end to end, was engulfed in flames shooting high into the sky.”

Dave, originally from Hawick, has been at Bridgehaugh since Keith Hendrie built the factory, which included the former Sim’s Mill canteen, in 1998.

“This place has been my life and now it has gone,” said Dave.

“The implications for me and the rest of the guys have not sunk in yet – but it’s a very hollow feeling and there is no doubt our future is very uncertain.”

Brian Finlayson from Bannerfield has been at Bridgehaugh for nine years. “I’m one of the older guys, but my heart goes out to the younger ones. I wasn’t due on until 2pm, but felt I had to come down to show solidarity with my colleagues. This is absolutely devastating for so many people.”

Alan Henry, who has worked at the factory for around five years, said: “I got the call at 5.15am to say not to rush in for my 6am start, but I never thought it would be as bad as this.

“It was a massive fire, and it looks like they will have to demolish the site, level it off and completely rebuild it from scratch.

“We had stopped doing night shifts, but had recently started getting busy again. Now we have lost everything.”

Ricky Clark has been with Bridgehaugh for a year. “I was unemployed for some time before I got this job which I really enjoyed.

“We had a great team with everyone very committed to the success of the company. I now really fear for the future.”

Foreman Ewan McGregor told us: “It’s ironic that this disaster should happen when we are so busy and it’s hard to fathom.

“There’s nothing really combustible in the process we use which makes the speed of the fire all the more difficult to take in.

“Thankfully, there has been no night shift since February and no-one died ... when the dust settles, that is the main thing.”