Holcim, originally named Aargauische Portlandcementfabrik Holderbank-Wildegg, is a Swiss-based building materials and aggregates company that was founded in 1912. The company expanded across Europe in the 1920s, then the Middle East and Americas between the 1930s and 50s. By the 1970s, the company had begun to expand into the Latin Americas and Asian countries. Today, the company employs over seventy-one thousand people and it holds interests in over seventy countries. Following a series of significant mergers with other companies, Holcim has become one of the largest cement manufacturers in the world. The company’s name was changed to Holcim in 2001 – it is short for Holderbank and cement.
Holcim’s Cape Foulwind cement works opened in 1958. However, as it has reportedly become cheaper to import cement from Japan, the plant was closed in 2016. The power was turned off on the 29th June, after the remaining eighty workers went home at midday, and the Holcim Cement Carrier left Westport harbour for the last time carrying the remaining 2,500 tonnes of cement from the wharf silos. To help support its staff, Holcim started a Tools for the Future programme to equip workers for after the plant closed. The scheme offered courses that would give their staff skills in other forms of employment, such as barista and chainsaw training, and guaranteed each worker a toolbox. All workers received tools for their toolboxes when they met targets, up to the final closure date of the plant. As a result of the closure, one hundred and five staff and contractors lost their jobs. Their final gift from Holcim was an umbrella and a ratchet set, to add to their toolboxes.
Immediately after the plans to close the site were made public, The Buller District Council began looking for new businesses to occupy the land to ensure the survival of Westport and nearby villages; the town’s port grew because of the cement works and it was the area’s main source of income. However, a year on and still no redevelopment work has taken place. Although there are plans to turn the site into an eco-park that could make energy from rubbish incineration or turn waste timber into bio-diesel, farms or an industrial park, the council have been unable to find new companies or buyers willing to establish a base in such a rural area of New Zealand. Today, only seven security guards, who were all members of staff at the plant, remain to protect the site until it is sold. As for the town of Westport, a number of houses are now up for sale as many local residents have been unable to find work in the area. Unfortunately, it seems likely that Westport will suffer heavily in the long term as a result of Holcim’s closure.
Our Version of Events
Holcim’s old cement works has been on the radar for a little while now. However, because it’s located on the desolate West Coast, we’d never had much reason to head in that general direction. Fortunately, though (for us), a major storm hit New Zealand the week we decided to go off and do some exploring, so, to flee the bad weather, we ended up in Westport.
As we arrived, the rain had eased into a light drizzle for the first time in days. Yet, despite the change in weather, we still weren’t very optimistic that we’d get onto the site since there were several security cars parked outside of the buildings at the front of the site. Since we’d driven all the way, though, effectively into the middle of nowhere, we decided to have a crack anyway.
In the end, access was a lot easier than we imagined, although it did entail a fair bit of walking. And once we were in, we managed, somehow, to completely avoid secca. There was the feeling that one of them could suddenly appear the entire time, since the site had many nooks, crannies and entranceways; however, we got lucky and didn’t encounter anyone until we were on our way back to the cars, back on the right side of the fence. As for the site itself, it was absolutely massive. Most of the interior was quite cramped and full of strange looking machinery, and some areas were flooded. The exterior was perhaps the best part of the explore as it had a very imposing feel to it. It kind of felt like we were extras on a Star Wars set at times. There were some sections to the front of the site that were difficult to access due to secca, and because the entire plant was coated in a thick slimy layer of cement we were unable to climb up some of the high-rise sections. There’s definitely scope to revisit the site then, to have a look at the couple of parts we didn’t manage to visit.
Explored with Nillskill.