WATCH; Behind the scenes at Sutton's new Amazon warehouse as staff get set for Black Friday
It seemed to emerge from nowhere - one month it was a long-neglected patch of scrubland called Phoenix Park, seemingly forgotten and abandoned on the Mansfield and Ashfield borders . . . sitting there derelict for as long as I can remember.
Then new roads were being built, I noticed one month as I drove towards Mansfield to go and see my mother.
And the next time I looked, a vast, towering warehouse had emerged - dominating the site, dominating the skyline.
It truly had risen from the ashes.
I’ve been asked along to have a tour of the site, which sits just off the MARR Route, off Sherwood Way South, Sutton, if you happen to take that particular rat-run into Mansfield.
It’s vast. It looks vast from two hundred yards away, but when you get up close it feels a bit like strolling around the periphery of the Titanic in dry-dock . . . and then some.
I park my car and then walk for what seems like an hour through a car park towards the main reception, passing a picnic area with a sign up telling people to go and smoke somewhere else.
There’s a bus bay which ferries workers to local communities across from it - trying to reduce their carbon footprint, a recent planning application has also looked at covering the roof space - and it’s one hell of a roof space - with solar panels.
It’s only been open since last year, and already the site has increased in capacity by a third.
I’ve heard the rumours.
I did a lot of investigative work into Sports Direct and how they treated their staff a few years back, and Amazon has been tarred with the same brush.
But I didn’t see it. Not at all.
I saw a well-oiled machine and people who were happy, engaged . . . supported.
My tour guide for the day is the general manager - 31-year-old Georgia Akuwudike, from Mansfield.
Let me say that again . . . 31-year-old Georgia Akuwudike from Mansfield.
Yes. She runs the whole show, along with a wider management team.
And everywhere we go, I see her, and a whole host of people in their late teens to mid 20s wearing high-vis vests with ‘LEADER - ASK ME FOR HELP’ emblazoned on the back.
I’m not going to try to explain how it works. I couldn’t - I’m not great at tech. But the whole thing is a marvel. The term, ‘well-oiled machine’ doesn’t do it justice.
The Sutton site deals in smaller items - ‘nothing bigger than a monopoly set’, I am told and everything is transported around the site, from delivery through to dispatch via robust black boxes known as ‘totes’.
If you order a canoe it will come from Chesterfield or Coalville.
Stuff is placed into them, they are stored in them, moved around in them, before finally their contents are dispatched onto their final conveyor belt, to be sent out to the customer.
“We have two fundamental commitments,” I am told. “We focus on the safety of our staff, and we focus on our customers . . . on their experience.”
And there are robots - more robots than employees. The Sutton site employs around 2,000 people, including seasonal staff, and has around 2,900 robots.
And the robots are so cool.
They move around over several floors in an enclosed caged area - working on an intricate system of barcodes on the floors to navigate their way. They’ll stop at one station for something to be placed into a ceiling-high stack of shelves by one worker . . . then another.
It’s all automated. A shelf even lights up to tell the employee where to place the item, before it makes its mechanical way to the next station.
These mechanical ‘workers’ are even smart enough to know when they are running low of energy, and take themselves off for a charging up - a bit like a knackered dog after a walk, taking itself off to its basket.
There’s even a guy wearing a special vest which allows him to enter the cage unharmed . . . they can sense his presence.
In the background music plays above the noise of the plant – at one point, Captain Sensible sings Happy Talk as the ‘bots perform their never-ending ballet.
I speak to some of the workers.
Cole Betteridge, a 24-year-old from Forest Town, joined a year ago. The former semi-pro’ golfer decided he needed a career and some stability, and said he loves the working environment and support he gets.
Will Dutton, 25, from Sutton, is one of 36 apprentices on the site, on the leadership programme,
“There’s a vast amount of support and it’s a great place to build a career,” he tells me. “There’s a lot of variety with it.”
While Richard Short, 48, moved back to Kirkby from London when the pandemic struck - leaving behind 20-odd years in the hospitality industry. He was onsite from day one, and says he’s got no intention of leaving the company.
Last year, he told me, he had his first Christmas Day off in more than 30 years..
“I get my weekends off,” he say, “I get my evenings off, and last year was the first Christmas Day off since 1989.”
Richard has been rapidly promoted since he joined the firm, and now runs an entire floor in his field of responsibility . . . and it’s one hell of a floor.
I have a go at boxing a delivery. You take it out of a tote and you scan it. Then the system tells you what size envelope or box you need, and what colour tape you need to seal it with.
Then you whack it onto a conveyor belt, and off it goes . . . onto the next step of its digitally-driven journey.
The final phase is the dispatching ‘bay’ - each parcel has a barcode which is stuck on before it is dispatched during the packing process.
As it hits the SLAM bay, as it is known, the parcel is scanned, and the barcode is cross-referenced to the customer’s address, which is air-blasted onto the box in the blink of an eye.
And not only that, but the system is even smart enough to send it to the right bay, so orders are grouped into geographic delivery, to be collected and dispatched.
I’m here because it’s Black Friday this week. You’d think with the demise of the old-style highstreet - with shoppers queuing up overnight to get the bargains, that purchases would be more ordered, more spaced.
But according to Georgia, shopping habits still haven’t changed in terms of timings.
“They still wait until the actual day,” Georgia says. “They’re still looking for the best deal. Friday’s going to be incredibly busy.”