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'Phoenix' hope for HJ Berry factory

The historic former mill left empty by the demise of Lancashire chair makers HJ Berry and Sons could be rescued, in a phoenix-like salvage deal.

Administrators appointed on Monday to deal with the 3.5m of debt which led to the collapse of the 140-year-old firm in Chipping, near Longridge, revealed they are talking about keeping the Kirk Mill factory running.

It is hoped the site can be sustained by a different industry with up to 50 new jobs potentially being created.

On Tuesday, the firm's workforce of 60 skilled craftsmen and 25 other workers were picking up redundancy forms on the site after it was officially closed down.

Joint administrator Mark Getliffe, of accountants CLB Coopers, said: "We are talking to interested parties to see if the HJ Berry factory site could be used for a different industry.

"The options being explored include leisure, eco-friendly commerce and possibly nursing care.

"The hope is the new employer could bring up to 50 jobs to the community."

John Woodruffe, former managing director who ran the company when it was offered 1m by multi-millionaire businessman Sir Gerry Robinson as part of a reality television programme last summer, said the news was "absolutely devastating."

The Preston-based boss advised the company's directors to accept the offer, but it was rejected after deciding it "would not have made a material difference to the chances of the company's survival."

He said: "It makes you wonder what would have happened if they had followed my recommendation of accepting Sir Gerry's offer, that I am sure would have moved them forward, not backwards as appears to have happened."

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans said he hoped that a new employer could

be found to take advantage of the highly-skilled workforce and the historic site, once used by Industrial Revolution pioneer, Richard Arkwright.

He said: "It is a site shaking hands with history but I do hope that does not mean it has not got any future.

"I would not close the door on retaining some form of furniture manufacture in Chipping. Do you really want to lose all those skills?"

Workers have spoken out about management of the factory and said its demise had come as "no surprise" to many staff.

One employee said: "We were at our wits' end and frustrated with the way the whole place was run and we could all see it coming."

A Chipping resident added: "The closure of the chairworks is a tragedy and it's so sad to see the old mill looking abandoned with an uncertain

future."

A spokesman for the company was unavailable for comment.

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HJ Berry in administration

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