Cadbury was a beacon of employment for my youth club members

Howard Williamson
Monday, February 1, 2010

So Kraft has finally taken over Cadbury. Around 4,400 Cadbury jobs could now be at risk, despite the millions of pounds that will be directed towards those who concluded the deal.

I have particular associations with Cadbury. My youth centre was in the heart of Bournville, and the sickly smell of chocolate would often waft through my office. My cottage in north Wales, which I have maintained as a youth project, was originally owned by Cadbury and purchased in 1961.

I wrote an oral history about a man who had started work at Cadbury, aged 14, in 1923. His mother had walked across Birmingham in 1881 to get a job as a Cadbury angel. Some of my sessional youth workers were lifetime employees at the factory. And it was, alongside the now demolished Rover factory at Longbridge, the Mecca of employment for generations of youth club members. It promised excellent terms and conditions.

By the late 20th century, the early philanthropic commitments of the Quaker Cadbury family had, inevitably, been supplanted by more hard-nosed business priorities. Some of the young people I worked with had doubts about whether or not they wanted to work nights or succumb to other changing workplace demands. Nevertheless, many still beat a path there. Even when they did not, or when they faced spells of unemployment, their parents who were employed at Cadbury helped them through. Life was pretty good.

Now it looks bleak. As jobs at Cadbury and Rover dried up, the children of those ex-youth club members have tended to stay in education, go to university and leave the area. There are fewer prospects for them locally. It is a far cry from the depression of the 1930s when Cadbury did not lay off one single person and, during the dip in the demand for the luxury of chocolate, put those who were surplus to production needs - often young people - to work on landscaping the local parks and improving public facilities.

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