What does it take to save a cultural icon? A community that’s keen as mustard

Location:
Norfolk
Sectors:
Local Economies
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When it was announced in 2018 that Colman’s Mustard factory in Norwich was to close after 160 years, it was a national news story. Everyone from politicians to Stephen Fry were lamenting its loss. “Norwich without Colman’s?,” Tweeted Fry. “Take the Tower from London, the Royal Shakespeare Company from Stratford and the potteries from Stoke, but leave our mustard in the fine city.”

The cultural, culinary and employment loss to the local area was significant. However, when the factory doors finally closed in 2020 and the last jar of spicy yellow condiment was rolled out, the legacy of mustard in Norwich did not stop there. In the meantime, a group of concerned yet impassioned local people decided they wanted to keep the production and heritage of mustard going for future generations.

After news of the closure, more than 180 people supported a crowdfunding campaign that led to the creation of Norwich Mustard after Power to Change matched the £6,000 raised. Over 10,000 jars of mustard later – honey, beer, djon or mild yellow – and, in their own words, Norwich now has a “co-operative mustard company, dedicated to retaining Norwich’s rich mustard-making heritage.” The product was immediately well received, with local shops reporting a spike in sales of condiments and customers choosing to support a local product above big brand names.

The community owned company now has over 140 members, each of whom is also a shareholder. The operation has also provided local employment along with countless voluntary roles and opportunities for upskilling and training – including working with service users to provide work experience and training to equip them for employment. Future plans also include opening a visitor centre where people can see mustard being made, learn about its history in the city, as well as buying jars, merchandise and mustardy snacks in the café. This will bring further employment, work experience and voluntary roles with it.

Meaningful local engagement and employment is central to the ethos and future plans of Norwich Mustard. “We want to go one better than to simply retain mustard making in Norwich,” they say. “People in Norwich loved Colman’s because they cared for the community within which their mustard was produced. Norwich Mustard, as a community-owned enterprise, aims to play its part in making Norwich a better place to live and work. We are planning to employ those furthest from the job market, helping them develop skills and experience that will help them secure jobs and rebuild their lives.”

Ultimately, the company’s plans, ethos and core principles can be summed up neatly by their own slogan: “A mustard that tastes good, does good and is here for good.”

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