As John Dickinson (JD) considers closing its manufacturing plant in Sawston, Stéphane Hamelin, president of owner Groupe Hamelin, talks to OPI+ about the decision and the reasons behind it
The company, which owns major brands like Oxford, Black n’ Red, Plus Fabric, New Guardian and Basildon Bond, this week began a 90-day consultation process with its 210 employees at the site. If the closure is confirmed, the company says it will transfer all manufacturing to other sites operated by John Dickinson or its parent-company, Groupe Hamelin.
The company insists that every available option for the future of the site has been explored. Speaking exclusively to OPI+, Groupe Hamelin’s president Stéphane Hamelin rejected the notion that the proposed closure had been on the cards ever since Hamelin’s acquisition of the UK company in July last year.
"We knew that we would have to strongly reorganise the manufacturing due to low efficiency in Sawston, but I thought that we wouldn’t have had to consider closing the Sawston factory. I can even tell you that we studied with Philip Beer (John Dickinson managing director) the possibility to build a brand-new factory on the existing site."
Hamelin said that if Sawston does close all its envelopes, books and pads production, it will transfer to the other factories of Groupe Hamelin in the UK and in continental Europe. But whatever happens to the Cambridgeshire factory, the brands produced by JD are firmly supported by its Caen-based parent.
"John Dickinson brands are key in our development strategy. Our goal is to develop them in term of awareness, product innovations and volumes. They bring great margins to our customers, and it is our common interest to grow them.
"John Dickinson has done a fantastic job with brands in books and pads as well as envelopes. These brands are now fully part of Groupe Hamelin’s key brands that we want to focus on."
Despite being shocked at the possible closure of the Sawston plant, workers union Amicus said the site’s age counted against it and the union didn’t hold out much hope of persuading its French parent to invest further in the plant.
"When the company said there was a proposal to close the site there was silence – and that was from experienced union reps," Steve Ireland, deputy branch secretary of the East of England Amicus graphical paper and media sector, told the Cambridge Evening News.
"What is a long-established UK business is under enormous pressure from eastern Europe and Asia. There is a problem with the age of the site – it is an antiquated factory. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do as a union to persuade John Dickinson’s French owner, Groupe Hamelin, to invest in it."
Philip Beer said competition from overseas manufacturers means difficult decisions have to be made for Sawston. "As a business we are under constant pressure to take out cost from our operations. Groupe Hamelin has best-in-class manufacturing plants and there is capacity available to absorb the Sawston production into these sites without affecting availability. Our provision of high levels of customer service is very important to our business."
He added: "The potential loss of the loyal workforce at Sawston, however, is not a proposal we are taking lightly. The pressure on UK manufacturers means that we need to consider difficult options in order to offer the correct product mix and right level of support and service to our customers for the future."