A SUCCESSFUL Bridport company is in a race against time to find new premises, or face having to leave town after more than 25 years.

There are fears around 20 local jobs could be moved if award-winning preserve and pickle makers Forest Products cannot establish a new, much larger site within the next two months.

Director Gavin Brooking, who set up the company with fellow director Mark Teideman in 1986, said he would be sad and disappointed if they had to relocate.

Since a merger last year with The Bay Tree Food Company Ltd, based in Shepton Mallet, a search has been mounted for premises in order to establish the entire distribution base in Bridport, which would be double the size of the current base in the Old Hemp Store at North Mills.

Hopes were high that another building on the trading estate would be the new base, but another business has taken it over.

“I had managed to persuade the board to bring the combined operation to Bridport, which would have been fantastic – it is what I had always hoped for,” said Mr Brooking. “Unfortunately the commercial reality is that someone else wanted the same bit of land and a deal was done without our knowledge.

“We do need to combine our operations side and there is not, as far as we know, a big enough site available locally.

“We will have to move elsewhere and the front-runner sites at the moment are in Yeovil or Wincanton.

“This is not what I wanted and it is not what anyone in Bridport wants. Bridport is my home.”

Mr Brooking said he fully appreciated that the Somerset locations could be too far for current staff to travel.

Workers, many of whom have been with the company for many years, have been informed of the current position and Mr Brooking said it was ‘a pretty stony affair’ when he broke the news.

He added: “It is very sad. I think that those members of staff who are closer to me understand that I fought hard to keep it local.”

The company, which started off with the two young men and one small copper pan, now produces a wide range of traditional quality food products including speciality preserves, chutneys and sauces, specialising in personalising them with company logos.

Originally based on the Dreadnought Trading Estate, the manufacturing operation has moved to Ivybridge in Devon.

Mr Brooking said that moving into larger Bridport premises might have only meant a marginal increase in the workforce.

“But there would not have been a loss of jobs. All is not lost, but time is running out,” he said.

Mike Harvey, president of Bridport Business chamber of commerce, pictured left, said that the company’s need to expand could be seen positively.

“It is a shame Forest Products can’t find anywhere locally but against that, they want to expand.

“Someone else will come in to fill the unit and will fill that gap.”