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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 15:20 GMT
Workers' village idea is not new
A strawberry grower's plan to build accommodation for his workers might be unusual in the 21st century, but the idea that happy workers are good for business is far from new.

More than a hundred years ago George Cadbury provided houses for workers in his chocolate factory at Bournville in Birmingham to enhance their quality of life.

Bournville estate in the 19th century
A cottage on the Bournville estate in the 19th century
Photo: News Team International

Following in his footsteps is Graham Neal, managing director of fruit farmers S&A Produce, who wants to build a 5m village to house 1,000 workers who pick and pack his strawberries each year.

It is designed to be "a home from home", with diversions on offer for staff when they are not working and social care facilities, including a doctor's surgery.

Instead of pool tables and computers, George Cadbury installed a swimming pool and gardens in his workers' village started in 1895.

And in place of modern day caravans planned by Mr Neal, 313 cottages in the "healthy surroundings" of 330 acres of parkland were built.

Cadbury's wife Elizabeth was involved in planning the village and recalled how the workers "enjoyed their homes in healthy surroundings, cultivating their gardens, rewarded in many instances by splendid crops of apples from the belt of apple trees which each tenant found at the bottom of his garden".

Slum antidote

Cadbury's passion for housing reform was driven by the oppressive conditions of Victorian factories.

Workers lived in squalid slums with insanitary conditions and their resulting health problems.

George Cadbury Picture: News Team International
Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?
George Cadbury

A Royal Commissioners' report in the 1840s showed that nearly a quarter of Birmingham's population of 220,000 lived in 2,000 un-drained streets.

As a result, the death rate was twice that of Edgbaston, a suburb a few miles from the city centre.

Cadbury reckoned that the poor needed some clean air in their lungs.

"Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?" he asked.

"Why should not the industrial worker enjoy country air and occupations without being separated from his work?"

In line with his Quaker beliefs, Cadbury believed in self improvement and started adult schools. The workers also had to attend morning prayers.

New Lanark
A workers' shop and free school were part of the New Lanark experiment

One hundred years earlier, a young Welshman had been driven by similar ideals.

Robert Owen believed "human nature is radically good" and that through education people would become "wise, wealthy and happy".

However if workers lived in terrible conditions, it would turn them into a "very wretched community" where "vice and immorality prevailed to a monstrous extent".

A similar connection was made by S&N Produce, which hopes its new village will put an end to the bad behaviour in the local community of some if its workers in the past.

However ,making a connection between poverty and bad conditions, and social problems like drunkenness and violence, was unusual for the 18th century.

Owen began an experiment in social reform when he created a "model village" at a cotton mill at New Lanark in Scotland in 1799.

He set up a school, a workers' shop, fines for drunkenness, and made the workers' living and working conditions better.

While the strawberry pickers will be put up in caravans, workers in the modern day model village at Poundbury in Dorset have architecturally-designed homes approved by no less than the Prince of Wales.

His modern day notions of work-life balance are not a million miles away from Owen and Cadbury's realisation that people will work better and more harmoniously if their conditions inside and out of work are good.

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18 Nov 03  |  Cornwall

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