Barry Willmott celebrated his 80th birthday on the meatworks factory floor that he’s vowed to stay on for as long as he possibly can.
“I know too many people who stop working and die,” he said in the boner room at Progressive Meats in Woolwich on Thursday.
Willmott, a packager who still knows his way around a boning knife, has worked at the Kelfield Place site for more than 22 years.
Despite his age, Willmott, a former British policeman, said he has no plans to hang up his overalls any time soon, and didn’t want his life slowing down like many before him.
“Unless you’ve got an aim or something to do, you just end up sitting indoors.
“I appreciate it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea [to continue working in a meatworks]. I just like getting out the house and my wife likes me out the house.”
Willmott said while packaging is strenuous at times, it isn’t overwhelming him.
“If I feel I can give a proper day’s work, then I will carry on working,” he said.
“I don’t want to be the poor little old man sat in the corner who can’t do anything. I want to be able to say I’ve earned my money at the end of each week. “
Willmott even cycles 4km each day to work.
“I feel invigorated when I get here each morning and it keeps my body moving.”
He isn’t a stranger to working hard, having been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal after nine years as a policeman in England.
Having worked his way through the ranks to CID, Willmott helped with the arrest of two London bank robbers, after his colleague was stabbed in the head.
Willmot tackled one offender, before chasing down the other and then drove his injured colleague to the hospital.
Not finished with his eye for stopping crime, Willmott also received a District Commander’s Award in Hawke’s Bay for helping a female constable make an arrest in 2003.
Progressive Meats owner Craig Hickson said he was impressed to find out about his employee’s previous career, and said there was a job for Willmott as long as he was able.
“He is an exceptional person to be working this late into his life,” Hickson said.
“The nature of his work now is quite unusual for his age – it’s physical and it’s a cool environment.
“He works at 10 degrees Celsius and when you get older, your circulation drops away and tends to feel the cold more.”
The Willmott family has a long history of working late into their lives, with Willmott’s brother, aged 79, also still working in the UK.
“It must be in our blood,” he said.
After moving to New Zealand in 1976, Willmott got his first taste of factory work as a meat inspector in Wellington.
Willmott said the Progressive Meats site has taken a step towards technology over the years in a “never-changing industry”.
“You wouldn’t recognise the building at all from when I started. When I started in the boning room, there were only a handful of workers.
“We thought a good day’s work was cutting up 900 pieces a day, but now with all the technology and more workers, they do closer to 2000.”