Nov 1 2012 By David Wren
The curtain closed on a part of Kilmarnock history on Tuesday as demolition work began at the former Johnnie Walker plant.
Buildings at the Hill Street site were pulled down - just over seven months after it was closed by Diageo with the loss of 700 jobs from the town.
The work makes way for the new Kilmarnock College on part of the land and hopes for further development on the rest, such as a new superschool.
But the destruction of the site, as can be seen on page 1, has been mourned by many.
Betty Murray, 55, from Galston, who worked at the site for nearly 39 years, said: “It’s sad for the town and it’s so sad for the kids because what have they got now, coming out of school?
“I’d started in Diageo in May 1973 when I was only 16. Even though I wanted another job it was hard to get one.”
Johnnie Walker was established in Kilmarnock in 1820 by founder John Walker and it had maintained links with the town ever since.
But that historic relationship was ended after 192 years.
The last bottle of its Red Label whisky produced in Kilmarnock was on March 23.
Around 200 employees found work in other parts of the Diageo company with 430 agreeing to severance pay and 82 people being forced into redundancy.
The closure sparked an angry reaction from locals with some staging protests against the decision.
MP Cathy Jamieson, who was part of the fight to try and save the site, told the Standard: “There is no doubt that this is the end of an era in Kilmarnock and we must always remember the huge contribution that the workforce in Johnnie Walker’s made over the years.
“The plant was extremely important to the local economy as well as being an iconic building.
“But we must now look to the future and ensure that the legacy promised by Diageo is delivered, and that the site becomes the focal point for revitalising that part of the town.”
It was claimed by the company at the time that it had to go from three plants to two and due to the significant work required to bring it up to scratch, Kilmarnock would be the one to close.
However, Betty disagrees, and said: “We were the best performing plant in Scotland. Although they said it was the location, we all knew in our hearts of hearts that it wasn’t. They didn’t care about us.”