Saturday, 30 January 2010

From Smethwick with regret

When I first came to Smethwick in the 1970s one of the great stabilising institutions in the community was the Mitchells and Butlers Brewery at Cape Hill.

Thousands of local people worked there, many in very skilled and well paid jobs. By and large M&B pubs were well run and binge drinking was rare. Brew XI was an excellent pint and rumour had it that the very local pubs got the best of the batch.

On a Sunday evening we could smell the hops being processed as we left church. It was a homely cabbage type smell. Although in a different market, making a different product, there were many similarities in the way in which M&B impacted on the local community with the chocolate makers Cadbury.

A few years ago the money men moved in. The brewery was closed and the jobs were gone. The land has been sold off for housing. Brew XI is still produced but it in not a patch on that which was brewed in Smethwick.  M&B now run several chains including the All Bar One brand which seems dedicated to pouring alcohol down the throats of young people. Aweful places, try to avoid them.

The Spectator  carries a story that sums up the story with the headline "How the brewers of Smethwick became the plaything of Barbados billionaires." In recent days those who watch the financial pages will be aware of the chaotic scenes at the annual shareholders meeting.

Now I fear that Cadbury's will end up going the same way. Why is it that a good sized profitable business can so easily be destroyed by shareholders who have no stake in the communities that have worked to create the value they so want to buy?

Here in the West Midlands we have seen seen countless good businesses bought, the land sold off for housing with a complete disregard for the community around the factory and the community in the factory.

Methodism was largely created by the people who worked in those factories and lived in those communities. Sadly we are now so detached that we have so little to say.

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