We are not alone

Jean Gilcrist (second left) and far right Diane Wise, Jo Spence, Maureen Bone and Ian Hudson with the Bata volunteers
From the private collection of J.Spence
Display cabinets with memorabilia including models of the houses.
From the private collection of J.Spence
Bata hotel
Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre
The swimming pool
Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre

The group of retired partners who developed this web site visited  The Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre to see their archives and hear about its history.  It was arranged (by Judy Faraday, the Partnership Archivist) that we would visit Bata to meet some of the volunteers who man the resource centre.

Some of us remembered Bata shoes but apart from being customers at one time knew very little about the company or its founder.  During our visit we learnt that the John Lewis Partnership is not unique in its philosophy of looking after the welfare of the people who work in it.  John Spedan Lewis thought that good productivity stemmed from a happy and healthy staff.  Other companies may not have gone as far as him, entrusting Partners with ownership rights, but often they have provided facilities that can only be envied by employees of other companies.

Thomas Bata, was also a man with vision.  He started his first shoe company in Czechoslovakia and it was in Zlin that his ideas of caring for his workforce started.  Today Bata factories are world-wide and each unit has the same principles and similar facilities that Thomas envisaged.

The Bata Estate
In 1933 Thomas purchased land in East Tilbury, Essex and built a shoe factory and affordable housing for his staff.  Bata Avenue was just the start of the estate.  As more factory buildings went up so his staff increased and the need to build homes for them.  Eventually the Bata Estate had a hotel which included shops, a french restaurant, a ballroom, social club, gymnasium and staff canteen which could seat 600.  There was a swimming pool, tennis courts,  cinema, children’s playground and a sports field.  The Bata farm produced milk and vegetables.  Every sort of club from Scouts and Guides to drama and dancing were available.  A school and training college were also built.  They even had their own Fire Brigade!

We heard from the volunteers (who were either retired employees or their descendants) about life on the estate.  How lucky they had felt to have all those facilities and how friendly the community was.  Many had joined Bata in their teens, married and still lived in a Bata house.  The entire estate is now a conservation area including the factory buildings.

There was a Management Advisory Committee (very much like our Committee for Communications) where elected members of staff would meet each month to discuss any problems or suggestions. A weekly paper, the Bata Record, kept staff up to date with life in the community.

Bata ceased production in Britain in 2006.

It was a very enjoyable and enlightening visit.  The similarities to our company were a surprise.

If you would like to visit the estate or are just interested in the history, details can be found on their web site:  www.batamemories.org.uk

Comments about this page

  • The Bata archive has material which reflects the way that business doesn’t just mean work but can mean a whole way of life.  In that respect Bata and the John Lewis Partnership are organisations with a great deal in common.  It was a very interesting visit.  I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in 20th century social history

    By Judy Faraday (25/01/2009)

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