'Sad day' for village after jobs blow

“IT is a sad day for Elmswell” - this was the message from community and business leaders following yesterday's shock announcement from Grampian Food Group.

“IT is a sad day for Elmswell” - this was the message from community and business leaders following yesterday's shock announcement from Grampian Food Group.

Hundreds of workers, many who live in the small Suffolk village, were left devastated after learning their jobs were to be axed.

But while those in the tight-knit community were considering the impact of the loss of its biggest employer, people elsewhere in Suffolk were left questioning the future of the company's factory in Little Wratting, near Haverhill.

St Edmundsbury Borough councillor Robert Clifton-Brown, ward member for Little Wratting, said it would have a huge knock-on effect if the same thing were to happen at the firm's other site.

You may also want to watch:

“Grampian is one of the major employers in the Haverhill area and this has to be treated seriously,” he said.

“I have the utmost sympathy for the poor people who have lost their jobs and I just hope the same thing doesn't happen here.”

Most Read

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said he was also extremely anxious about the safety of jobs at the firm's Haverhill factory, which employs around 1,000 people and is currently trying to secure the purchase of a nearby site.

“The loss of jobs at Elmswell is a clear warning of what might happen if a settlement is not reached,” he said.

“But I have spoken to Grampian, which said every decision is a stand-alone decision, and no inference is to be drawn that what has happened in Elmswell will happen in Haverhill.”

The foundation stone of the Elmswell factory - known then as the St Edmunds Bacon Factory - was laid in the village almost a century ago in 1911.

The farmers who formed the company travelled to Denmark to study new production methods, after which time the plant grew rapidly, and in its early days around 230 pigs were processed a week.

In the years between the two wars, St Edmunds continued to grow and more pigs were processed than ever before. In 1926, the factory began to produce pork as well as bacon and in the same year, David Black, a local Suffolk farmer, became chairman. His skill and experience took the company through some if its most profitable years.

But after the Second World War and following slick advertising campaigns, Danish bacon captured a vast slice of the English market and many producers went into liquidation - and all felt the pinch.

However, St Edmunds survived - diversifying and modernising to improve its products. New vacuum packing equipment was installed to satisfy the growing demand for high quality pre-packed bacon.

The factory was bought out by Harris - a subsidiary of Unigate - and in the early 1990s the firm also had Suffolk plants in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. In 1996 the Ipswich factory closed with 160 workers losing their jobs, and in the late 1990s the Bury processing plant shut its doors and the site is now being re-developed with luxury town houses.

Carol Millward, district councilor for Elmswell, said: “I used to work there for 18 months and I have to say I am very surprised and extremely disappointed.

“It was a great employer of young mums who could work a 9.30am to 3pm shift and there were many people who had been there a long, long time. I really am devastated because we can ill afford to lose employment.”

Elmswell Parish council chairman Peter Dow, who owns a vegetarian food manufacturing company based in Elmswell, said the job cuts would have huge ramifications for the village and the surrounding area.

“It has come as a terrible shock to the whole community,” he said. “The trouble is that there are too many meat processors, coupled with cheaper imports, and businesses are unable to keep going as a result.

“Grampian is known for its excellent workforce but a lot of people are going to find themselves out of work.

“The parish council has spoken to the firm to find out what we can, and should be doing, but in the long-term we also have to be ready to fight Elmswell's corner in terms of the possible development of the factory's 42-acre site.”

David Barker, a former pig farmer from Westhorpe, said he felt for the workers affected by the closure but said it was systematic of what was happening across the country.

“The blame lies solely at the door of the supermarkets,” he said. “They are squeezing the pork industry and driving down prices and applying pressure so local farmers cannot compete.

“As a result they bring in cheap, second rate pork from abroad which is nowhere near the same quality and has lower welfare standards than here in the UK.

“It's a dreadful shame what has happened at Elmswell because it is an important source of employments but unfortunately these types of closures are happening across the board.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter