60 jobs axed at Suffolk firm

OVER half the workforce at a Suffolk firm have had their jobs axed in a bid to save the business from closure, it has been revealed.WB Bawn and Co Ltd, which owns the Helmsman factory in Bury St Edmunds, has been thrown into uncertainty after administrators announced 60 redundancies had to be made this week, with immediate effect.

OVER half the workforce at a Suffolk firm have had their jobs axed in a bid to save the business from closure, it has been revealed.

WB Bawn and Co Ltd, which owns the Helmsman factory in Bury St Edmunds, has been thrown into uncertainty after administrators announced 60 redundancies had to be made this week, with immediate effect.

Last night, bosses at financial advisory firm Grant Thornton said they were hopeful a buyer could be found for the floundering company, but admitted no guarantees could be made that the remaining 48 jobs could be saved.

“The firm is continuing to trade and products are going out the door. But we had to make significant redundancies to make sure the firm is profitable, without damaging the business anymore than we had to,” said Grant Thornton administrator and partner, Ian Carr.

“There is a lot of work going on to save the business. We cannot give any guarantees, but the company does have a strong order book and employees with significant skills sp there is potential for the future.”

The firm, based on the town's Northern Way industrial estate, was established in Bristol in 1780 by mast and block maker John Bawn. The company moved to East London's docks where it began making ship's boilers, galvanised tanks and heavy steel plates. After the Second World War, new products were introduced, one of which was lockers.

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The Helmsman factory is now one of the UK's leading manufacturers of personal storage and changing room equipment including lockers, cubicles, and seating, and supplies various sectors including leisure, education, retail, industrial, and medical.

Mr Carr said a number of interested parties had come forward to enquire about buying the factory.

“We have around 15 or 16 parties which have expressed a high level of interest in buying the business and its assets, which is the best we can hope for at the moment,” he said. “We are now in the process of supplying information to those people so they can take a view as to whether they wish to make an offer, and things are being lined up for those people to come and have a look at the business.”

In 2006, Helmsman was awarded a six figure contract to assist in the refurbishment of an outdoor swimming pool in Hackney that had been closed for two decades.

And last year, the firm expanded into European and Middle Eastern markets, and helped launch a pioneering drowning alarm with a pool safety firm.

It is believed those who lost their jobs - who were given the news on Wednesday - were to meet with administrators to put in claims for Government compensation, having been paid until December 31.

Anne Rivett, the firm's managing director who was credited with increasing turnover by 30% after she joined the company in 1997, said she was unable to comment on the redundancies at the present time.