I felt a particular sadness when I heard about M Firkin, with a chain of shops across the West Midlands, having to call in the administrators. It was always inspiring to hear how the family firm, which is even older than British Baker, had grown from humble beginnings to become a 53-shop craft bakery business.
Martyn Cavill, great-grandson, and chairman of the firm, was instrumental in helping to get the unfair Temperature Regulations, introduced in the last decade, repealed in Parliament.
Many of you will remember that it was christened the Custard Tart Campaign, which drew much merriment and lots of national press coverage. It centred around the fact that the then Conservative government ruled that bakers’ fresh goods should be kept and sold at a chilly 8ºC. MPs were asked: “Have you ever tried eating a cold custard tart? Trust us, you’d never buy another. But ambient, they have always been best-sellers!”
Importantly, bakers argued that their custard tarts, cream cakes and everything else affected by the regulations would never poison anyone, because they are made fresh on the day and thrown out at the end of the same day. It’s what craft bakers are famous for – freshness.
Martyn Cavill organised coaches and brought his employees down to the House of Commons, where he joined NA members from all over the UK, and British Baker. He made sure we were all dressed in pristine bakery whites and hats, then in we marched, demanding to speak individually to our MPs. The TV cameras rolled, the radio mikes were shoved under our noses, the press had a field day – and the Health Minister relented and repealed the Temperature Regulations. It was democracy and common sense at work.
Not long afterwards, I went to interview Mr Cavill. The conversation flowed and we never made it to the planned lunch. I even discovered that we had both lived in the same house (although not at the same time!) – Furnace House, in the village of Furnace, mid-Wales.
Now it seems everything has happened at once. Surrounded by supermarkets and coffee shops, and suffering an all-too-common mouse infestation that cleared the shelves for a week, the company quickly succumbed, though it is currently “trading merrily”, according to the administrators. My thoughts are with Mr Cavill, the 408 employees and the creditors. I truly hope the business continues.