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Food for thought about bygone workforce

PUBLISHED: 10:48 04 July 2008 | UPDATED: 20:46 05 July 2010

AFTER the success of his book on the Eastern Coach Works factory, Malcolm White has returned with one that looks at the history of another iconic former Lowestoft employer.

AFTER the success of his book on the Eastern Coach Works factory, Malcolm White has returned with one that looks at the history of another iconic former Lowestoft employer.

Co-operative Pride and Capability covers the history of the canning and food processing factories in Riverside Road and Waveney Drive that dominated the landscape of central Lowestoft for decades. It touches briefly on the factory's origins under the Maconochie Bros and its last days under the Premier Foods name. But the main focus is on the Co-op, which had control of the two factories from the early 1930s to the mid-1990s.

The book takes an in-depth look at what for years was regarded as one of the largest food production complexes in Europe. “The Co-operative Wholesale Society bought real money into Lowestoft,” says Mr White. “In addition to being a major employer, it benefited the local economy by buying vast quantities of locally-produced products from local sources.”

Thousands of Co-operative food stores were supplied with a wide range of Waveney, Unity and Wheatsheaf-branded products, with an estimated 14 million households buying the brands.

Over the years thousands of workers passed through the factory doors. And in the book, four former employees recall fond memories of their time there: Gwenneth Maclean (née Lewis), who started in the cheese box making department as a 16-year-old in 1935; Ione Ellis (née Rawston), who worked at the No 1 factory from 1971-83; Florence Baldry (née Meikle), who worked in the paste room from

1936-41; and Don Powell, who worked at the company from 1959-94.

Also featured in the 120-page book are 140 colour and 60 black and white images and an official 1930s guide to the Lowestoft CWS factories. This included a tour of the factory and details of staff activities, including an annual sports day.

The factories were sold by the society in 1994, and shortly afterwards the canneries were closed by the new owner, leaving only a modern ready-meals unit and a sauce and pickle factory in production. This brought an end to food production on the site after over 100 years, and, with much of the buildings demolished, barely anything remains of the factories' presence but those memories.

Co-operative Pride and Capability is published by Coastal Publications at £15.99.

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