Cadburys – Kraft takes it and covers it in?

1968, Cadbury’s, green grassy banks, packed lunches and school friends.  19 January 2010, husband, greenhouse, twitter and tapas lunch.  Memories and reality collided in the pit of my stomach today, as it was announced that Cadbury’s had accepted the takeover deal from Kraft.  Shareholders have till the 2 February to accept the offer. 

In 1968, my Auntie Jean worked at Cadbury’s in Bournville.   She often appeared at our house with orange bags of Misshapes.  Misshapes were bags of chocolates, including Milk Tray, which had not passed the quality level required that day.  I was 13 years old and thought Cadbury’s ruled the world.   I did a school project on the cocoa bean after Cadbury’s had sent me a very colourful information pack.  The pack had insets with real beans and cocoa powder and of course the finished product, all wrapped up in that magic purple paper. 

A few of us from my class, took a tour of the factory, where workers seemed to watch the conveyor belts and listen to the radio all day.  The words efficiency and effectiveness, icons of industry, economic destiny, were not part of anyone’s vocabulary either in the upstairs offices or on the unionised factory floor.   Workers were more interested in the whistle blowing for lunch and again at the end of day and whether the number 27 bus would be on time.    

The number 27 bus would make its way into Bournville from Kings Heath up and down hills of council houses to the edge of Stirchley, which was slightly more upmarket.  It was a one story bus as the railway bridge just before Cadbury’s was very low.   I made that journey three times a week and the smell of chocolate would begin about half a mile before the bridge. 

We all knew Bournville, was a Quaker village and that Cadbury’s owned many of the homes where their workers lived.   We also knew Quakers did not drink and were peace loving.  It seemed a magical place, tidy gardens, lots of trees and the constant smell of chocolate.   I wanted to live there!

I do not eat chocolate now, sugar and hormones spoil the experience.  I twitter and write and grow vegetables on a hill in Portugal.   There was a flurry of comments about Cadbury’s on twitter this morning.  Skills, talent, expertise, jobs, Kraft cheese, economics and money were the odd words that filled the 140 character tweets.    One tweeter, told me, things must move on, as I lamented the possibilities for Cadbury’s, the community being fractured, the smells and colour disappearing. 

As Kraft looks at its bottom line, will it hold in its heart the history and culture of Bournville?  Presumably the management structure is aware of the social networking site, Friends of Cadbury’s http://www.friendsofcadbury.com/

In 1968, I could not have joined this group and the conversation on twitter.  So things have moved on?  On the “friends” site today, there is very little talk of Quakerism; people are calling for a boycott of all things Kraft and Cadbury’s until the Board comes to its sense.   One commentator states  “this takeover was driven in effect by the hedge funds, these are not long term investors worried about solid and steady growth but short term quick profits, nothing was learnt from the credit crunch”.

Another points out “from past research that the top 50 investors (i.e. the big banks, hedge funds etc) own about 60% of Cadbury”.

The friend’s site is also pointing to a keep Cadbury’s independent petition being hosted by the Unite union.  http://www.unitetheunion.org/campaigns/keep_cadbury_independent_petit.aspx

The banner headline for the petition runs “we love Cadbury’s”.  Unite argues that “Cadbury is one of the world’s best loved confectionery makers.  Cadbury employs 6,200 workers in the UK and Ireland, and 40,000 other workers around the world. They are now worried for their futures.  Kraft will borrow heavily to pay for Cadbury but debt on such a scale will destabilise a great business and thousands of jobs are sure to go.  In the past 10 years, Kraft has sacked 60,000 workers to pay for other companies it has eaten up”.

It would be sad if this happened to Cadbury and its workers, but even sadder for the village of Bournville.  Like Saltaire before it, Bournville will no doubt reinvent itself.  In some ways it already has, with the ideas of the Bournville village trust.  This trust was set up by Cadbury’s in 1900.  http://www.bvt.org.uk/resource/bournville.shtml

The website boasts of some of its recent work, with photos of four Grade II listed shops in the conservation area having been restored to their former glory.  The Trust says it spent £750,000 on refurbishment, including apartments above the shops, plus the restoration of 2 houses and the addition of one new build dwelling.

These houses were the first to be provided by George Cadbury, as part of his philanthropic vision to create a unique community adjacent to the Bournville chocolate factory.

The Bournville Community website has on it home page a whole list of links to .pdf files about a master plan and proudly states.  “After more than 100 years since George Cadbury had the vision to create Bournville, a balance of urban and rural living, Bournville Village Trust has commissioned a new Landscape Masterplan.  The plan is essentially to produce a “vision for the future” and has a bold timetable of five years or more, the masterplan is just the first step (concept ideas)”.   

The consultations have begun! 

If you wander around the site you will come across a photo of last summer’s village festival.  The main photo has girls in white dresses dancing around a Maypole on Cadbury’s recreation ground.  A brass band and the festival queen complete the page.  That’s how I want to remember Bournville and Cadbury’s.  http://www.bournville-web.net/

I ate my packed lunch on that field in 1968 and very much hope I can do so again 50 years later in 2018.  By then it may well be wind farm or a housing estate.  Let’s hope its still Cadbury’s recreation field used by Bournville village.

That’s how I want to remember Cadbury’s, Bournville

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