Wigan woman celebrates forty years of work at Uncle Joe's factory

Times they have changed in the four decades that Denise Banks has worked at Wigan's famous sweet factory.
John, left, and Antony Winnard present Denise with her anniversary giftsJohn, left, and Antony Winnard present Denise with her anniversary gifts
John, left, and Antony Winnard present Denise with her anniversary gifts

For one thing the machinery she operates is 20 times faster and more productive than when she arrived at William Santus and Co as a teenager in 1978.

But the Ince 56-year-old doesn’t mind this evolution, loves the job and hasn’t any plans to call it a day anytime soon. In fact she’s looking forward to seeing Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls rattling off the production line until she is celebrating her golden anniversary.

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Co-directors of the Dorning Street plant, John and Antony Winnard, this month presented Denise with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of bubbly as a sign of appreciation of her hard work and loyalty.

Denise, who began working at the plant on leaving Rose Bridge High School Ince, said: “I love it here and hopefully I can stick around for a lot longer yet. I have spent most of my time on the wrapping machines and they have changed a bit over the years. When I started they were hand-fed, then they became automatic and now we have some very fast new kit, so we have gone from wrapping 120 sweets a minute to 2,000!”

And while the Mint Balls have been a constant throughout the company’s life, never mind Denise’s, they are always trying out new ideas.

And the latest one, which really seems to have captured the public imagination, is to have gin-flavoured boiled sweets.

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Experts are currently fine-tuning the flavours but a rhubarb and ginger gin, and a wild berries gin are looking the favourites to run out on the production line. Co-director Gareth Winnard said: “We have put it out on Facebook and have had a huge response. We always like to keep on trend and gin is certainly enjoying boom times at the moment.”

The firm was going to be appointing three product tasters this week after asking for members of the public to volunteer online. If they approve of the current formulae, the sweets could be going on sale within weeks.

The plan is to sell them in tins in more upmarket department stores.

But however they come out, Denise will be there helping to pack them.

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Co-director John Winnard said: “Denise, Antony and I have come through a lot together, good times and bad.

“We started at the company at the same time and like to think we are all like a family unit.”