Demand for Sudbury silk is high and its specialist weaver workforce is busier than it has been for years.
That is the view of Gainsborough manager director Emerson Roberts, who says he desperately needs to recruit skilled workers to fulfil months of back orders.
The company, which has been established in Sudbury for 114 years, says it faces a different challenge to Delphi Diesel Systems, which recently entered into formal consultations with employees as the company reviews its business strategy.
The engineering firm has seen its workforce in Sudbury decrease from a peak of approximately 800 employees since 2008, and the company says projections for a significant decline in the sales of diesel vehicles has meant it has had to re-evaluate its manufacturing capacity for diesel engine components.
Mr Roberts said: “With the news that our neighbour Delphi is assessing the long-term viability of its Sudbury operation, together with broader Brexit-related concerns over the national economy, the town might benefit from some better news.
“Gainsborough is facing a different kind of challenge – we are busier than we have been for years and are sitting on months of back orders because we are short of staff.
“Looking to take on a few skilled weavers isn’t much of a counterpoint to the 520 jobs that are at risk next door, but it is skilled jobs like these – that cannot be easily relocated – that must be a priority as Brexit trundles on.”
Gainsborough is one of three silk firms in Sudbury and it specialises in silk fabric used for interior designs. The town’s others are Vanners and Stephen Walters and Sons.
Mr Roberts said Gainsborough needed at least three more weavers to join its 30-strong team of designers and loom operators, but it was difficult to find skilled workers with the relevant experience. “We used to have successive generations of families coming to work here, but social changes mean that people do not necessarily want to work in a factory.”
He said he estimated there were around 200 weavers employed in the silk industry in Sudbury.
Awarded the Royal Warrant nearly 40 years ago, Gainsborough has produced fabrics for Royal palaces, state buildings, grand residences and stately homes all over the world.
Most of its design team studied at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, and the company has an archive that exceeds 5,000 different designs.
Gainsborough’s buys its silks in Euros, importing them via Italy, so Mr Roberts said the company had been affected by currency fluctuations due to the implications of Brexit.
Back orders include fabrics for luxury homes and hotels in the UK, as well as in Ireland.
“We are very busy,” said Mr Roberts. “We have a real mix of orders at the moment from National Trust properties to high-end residences in the UK.
“Because many of them are interior design projects, the orders come at the end of the project as it is finishing. This is different to silk apparel where there is a very quick turnaround.”
Gainsborough was established in 1903 by weaver Reginald Warner and the business moved to its present location in Alexandra Road in 1924.