Concern after some staff 'not paid' at Sudbury silk firm after takeover

Developer Roger Gawn

Roger Gawn bought Vanners from administrators at the end of last year. - Credit: Steve Adams

The future of one of Suffolk's most historic companies is in question after it was claimed some staff had not been paid since it was rescued from administration on Christmas Eve.

Employees of Vanners Silk Weavers of Sudbury celebrated the festive season thinking 30 jobs had been saved after it was taken over by Norfolk businessman Roger Gawn.

Vanners Silk in Sudbury.

Vanners silk weavers in Sudbury. - Credit: Phil Morley

However, since then employees have said some only received part of their January wages and nothing since - and some have not received any wages at all.

The factory has been shut and Mr Gawn said he hopes to be able to restart production in about three or four months' time.

An employee who contacted us said staff were told they would be furloughed - but Mr Gawn said he was having difficulty in getting money for this from the government.

Eventually, the employee said, some were paid half of their expected furlough money - 40% of their wages - in January but had received nothing since.

Laura Gore with James Cartlidge

James Cartlidge with Vanners' managing director Laura Gore. - Credit: James Cartlidge

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge, who had been working to try to secure as many jobs as possible at the factory, said he had heard from constituents who had not had any wages since the sale was announced.

He said: “I was very pleased to hear what appeared to be such positive news on Christmas Eve when the administrator KPMG contacted me to confirm that they had sold Vanners to Roger Gawn, suggesting remaining employment at the factory had been ‘saved’.

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"Thus, it is a terrible setback to hear that the company is suspending manufacturing. Above all, I am particularly concerned that some staff appear not to have been paid for a significant period of time. I am liaising with all appropriate authorities on an urgent basis to see what can be done to assist employees at Vanners.”

He has been working with Vanners' managing director Laura Gore to try to support workers at the factory.

Mr Gawn told us that the situation he found when he took over the factory was worse than he realised: "The factory had no sales or income so I had no option but to close it and look for a new way forward."

He said he hoped to restart production in the next three or four months - but was not prepared to comment on the position of the staff or their wages.

Roger Gawn outside a former bath house and watchtower in the grounds of Melton Constable Hall, which

Roger Gawn owns the Melton Hall estate in north Norfolk. - Credit: Chris Bishop

Mr Gawn is a well-known in business circles in Norfolk and owns Melton Constable Hall.

He has owned several companies over the years - although he was disqualified from being a director for three years in 2014 after Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs obtained a court order over a failure to make PAYE payments.

Vanners is one of the oldest businesses in Suffolk. It was founded in 1740 and moved to its Sudbury premises in 1870. 

Vanners in Sudbury

Vanners silk weavers has been based in Gregory Mills in Sudbury since Victorian times. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Their products have been bought by some of the most photographed people on the planet - including Adele and Michelle Obama

At the end of 2019 the company announced it was planning to expand by moving into a  larger factory in the town - but just a year later it was forced to call in administrators after a double blow meant it lost nearly 70% of its market.

Upmarket US retailer Brooks Brothers went into receivership  - and much of its production was sold through airport shopping centres which closed because of the pandemic.

When KPMG was called in during November half its 64 staff were made redundant - but the Christmas Eve sale sparked hopes that the rest of the business could be revived.

When he first took over Mr Gawn said he hoped to modernise the company and said he felt it should have a bright future.

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