Broken chocolate factory pledge devastates Keynsham

Archive footage of the Cadbury Somerdale plant in Keynsham in the 1930s

The small town of Keynsham, nestled in the countryside between Bristol and Bath, is well known for two things.

The first is Horace Batchelor and his radio adverts for a way of increasing your chances of winning the Football Pools; the second is for making chocolate.

An imposing Cadbury factory, known as Somerdale, has dominated the town during the past century.

In 2007, Cadbury threatened to close it and switch production to Poland as part of a "cost reduction plan".

So when food giant Kraft said it wanted to keep the plant open during its takeover in 2010, many workers must have felt like they had won the pools.

But the promise was an empty one, which left employees working at the factory going from a "massive high" to despair.

Amoree Radford, who campaigned to keep Somerdale open, said she had no reason to think Kraft would go back on its pledge.

Somerdale closure timeline

  • October 2007: Cadbury announces it will close Somerdale plant
  • October 2009: Kraft says it wants to keep Somerdale open if it takes over Cadbury
  • January 2010: Kraft agrees takeover of Cadbury
  • February 2010: Kraft says it will close Somerdale by the end of 2010 and switch production to Poland
  • May 2010: Takeover Panel criticises Kraft for misleading investors over promise to keep Somerdale open
  • January 2011: Production at Somerdale plant ends

"I believed them and the employees believed them," she said.

"The plant is very productive, it is very profitable. Kraft said they wanted to expand it and wanted to be environmentally-friendly.

"So of course we believed them - who wouldn't?"

But as soon as the takeover was complete, Kraft said plans for a move of manufacturing to Poland were too advanced and the Somerdale plant was doomed.

The company said that during the hostile takeover it had not known that Cadbury had spent tens of millions of pounds kitting out a Polish factory, leaving it with no choice but to renege on its commitment to Somerdale.

"We were absolutely devastated. You've got to trust to people and we trusted them. We thought they would be insane to close it," said Ms Radford.

And less than a year after the announcement that sealed the fate of the Keynsham factory, the last chocolate bar has rolled off the production line.

Closing down

In its heyday, thousands of people worked at Somerdale, which was originally a joint venture between Cadbury and another Quaker family, the Frys, makers of Turkish Delight.

When production ended the number of staff was 400, which will be reduced to 50 as the factory is cleaned up over the next few months.

One family, which has clocked-up more than 100 consecutive years through seven employees working with Fry's and then Cadbury, said Somerdale was more than just a job.

The Cumner working at Cadbury in Keynsham Jack, Les, Derek and Bob whose family have worked at Somerdale for 100 years

Les Cumner, who retired in 2002 after 42 years working there, told the BBC's Inside Out West he would be sad to see the factory go.

"We shall, along with many others, miss the fact that the place we all came to love is no longer producing chocolate and providing more than just employment for many people in Keynsham."

Despite the factory's importance to the town Kraft said there would be no celebration for the end of production saying it was a "sad moment" but it wanted to wind-down production gradually.

This is something that has disappointed local Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

"I think Kraft have been amazingly mean-minded all the way through," he said.

"I'd like to see them celebrate this factory and the contribution it has made to Cadbury's and the contribution it has made to chocolate.

"It really is a very important part of our history and I rather think that Kraft is leaving a nasty taste in the mouth - like their cheese."

Inside Out West takes a look back at the history of Somerdale on Monday, 24 January at 1930 GMT on BBC One. An exhibition about the history of Somerdale is open between 26 to 30 January at the Fry Club in Keynsham.

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