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East Anglia Future 50

Bury St Edmunds garden living spaces manufacturer collapses with loss of 39 jobs

PUBLISHED: 16:10 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 May 2019

Charlie Dalton from Zedbox with MP Jo Churchill at the launch of Zedbox's new R&D centre  Picture: CHERRY BEESLEY/SIMPLY C PHOTOGRAPHY

Charlie Dalton from Zedbox with MP Jo Churchill at the launch of Zedbox's new R&D centre Picture: CHERRY BEESLEY/SIMPLY C PHOTOGRAPHY

Archant

A Suffolk manufacturer about to launch a factory in Bury St Edmunds which would have employed up to 130 people has collapsed with the loss of 39 jobs.

Zedbox
Smart Garden Offices 
 Picture: LUCY TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHYZedbox Smart Garden Offices Picture: LUCY TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Charlie Dalton, founder of Zedbox, which made high-end garden living spaces, said he was "mortified" at the company's demise, which was the result of complications and delays in ironing out manufacturing issues for a "very, very complex building" compliant with building regulations.

These caused his bank, HSBC, to pull the plug, and a back-up plan he had in place also failed, he said.

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The business, based at the Rougham Industrial Estate, included Zedbox, and its research and development arm, PDS Worldwide, which were both affected. Staff at the two companies were made redundant last week as the businesses entered a voluntary liquidation process, he said, as he expressed his disappointment and sadness at the collapse.

"This is my life's work and my life's ambition and it's fallen apart. I'm mortified that there are customers caught up in this, as well as suppliers and employees too," he said.

Opening of Zedbox's new research and development centre  Picture: CHERRY BEESLEYOpening of Zedbox's new research and development centre Picture: CHERRY BEESLEY

The business would have been looking at a turnover of £5m this year after starting up last year, he said. Around £1.2m was invested in product development. Funding from HSBC, and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) - which had agreed a six-figure grant but hadn't got as far as paying anything - was lined up to create a new £750k factory, which had already been earmarked for a site with heads of terms agreed.

He had personally injected "a substantial amount" in the project, he added, and if he had more, he would have invested it.

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"I have ploughed everything into Zedbox," he said. "We would be employing close to 130 people. We were due to be producing out of there by now. But the factory was delayed. We had technical problems with the new process."

MP Jo Churchill and the team from Zedbox opening their new R&D Centre in Rougham  Picture: CHERRY BEESLEYMP Jo Churchill and the team from Zedbox opening their new R&D Centre in Rougham Picture: CHERRY BEESLEY

The buildings, made from prefabricated materials, have to adhere to building regulations as they are living spaces, and a host of specifications, he explained.

"We were pretty much there, which makes it that much more frustrating," he said. "We had teething problems with an innovative product. Everything was completely surmountable, but we effectively ran out of money."

The delay over technical issues caused funding problems, he explained. "The bank went cold on us in the spring, and I was trying to do a re-finance myself but I was unable to do that," he said. "They blame Brexit."

The business became stretched as he was resourcing up ready for the factory launch by taking on new staff. "We had over 50 staff in preparation for the new factory," he said. "The businesses have ceased to trade. I have no plans to phoenix or start up again - I'm completely done in by this process."

Zedbox, which requires a higher specification because it is living space, was spun out of a completely separate business, Smart Garden Offices at Thurston, a £5m turnover firm employing 50 staff. Mr Dalton founded that company 13 years ago for a business - rather than domestic - customer base. He resigned as a director from Smart Garden Offices earlier this year, but remains its owner.

A Smart Garden Offices spokesman said: "In recent months, Smart has been run by a new and dedicated management team - quite separate to that of any previous sister company. Indeed, we are now an independent going concern and Matt Moss, Smart's managing director, is the only director of the company listed at Companies' House. We are looking forward to very soon announcing some exciting and positive news that will give a real impetus to Smart's ongoing business success and the continued development of our market-leading product range of garden rooms, offices and studios."

HSBC has been approached for comment.

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