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Ashford Batchelors factory reopens creating 220 jobs

Mayor Cllr John Link unveils the plaque to open the new factory with manager Tim Gregory. Picture: Dave Downey.
Mayor Cllr John Link unveils the plaque to open the new factory with manager Tim Gregory. Picture: Dave Downey.

by business editor Trevor Sturgess

Kent has become a European centre
of dry food manufacturing after the opening of a new factory with
the creation of more than 200 jobs.

Premier Foods reversed a decision to close the old Batchelors plant in Kennington Road, Ashford, and instead invested £25million in a new facility.

In a dramatic turnaround, the plant
is now able to turn out 54,000 tonnes of products a year ranging
from Cup a Soup, Bisto and Paxo stuffing to Curry Sauce, cake and
bread mixes and Vesta meals.

The factory previously employed
around 200 people, many of whom faced redundancy before the
decision was taken to invest in the plant instead of shutting it
down. Now the workforce has more than doubled to 420.

The Phoenix Building was formally
opened on Tuesday by the Mayor of Ashford Cllr John Link.

He praised the team who had worked
so hard to create such an outstanding building. But he reminded
guests five factories across England and Ireland had closed because
of the investment in Ashford with the loss of many jobs.

"I am convinced the hard work that
has taken place here will pay huge dividends in the years ahead,"
he said. "As a result of this project, Premier Foods Ashford is now
the largest dry food manufacuring site in Europe and possibly the
world."

Factory manager Tim Gregory with some of the products. Picture: Dave Downey.
Factory manager Tim Gregory with some of the products. Picture: Dave Downey.

Tim Gregory, factory
manager, said sales were growing, partly due to the downturn.

"We're seeing growth at the moment
and we’ve already grown more than the project assumed," he said.
"How much of this is down to the recession we will see when the
recession is finished."

Annette Pearce has worked at the
plant for 21 years. She expected to be laid off before the decision
to transform the factory. "It’s so nice that there are more jobs
here and it’s a good investment for Ashford."

Ashford council leader Cllr Paul Clokie added: "This is great news for Ashford. It's a wonderful sign to inward investors that people are coming to Ashford and seeing that Ashford is a manufacturing base."

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