Business boost for top Swaffham caterers from expanding education sector

Co-founders and directors of Swaffham-based Edwards and Blake Shirley Edwards (left) and Caroline Bl

Co-founders and directors of Swaffham-based Edwards and Blake Shirley Edwards (left) and Caroline Blake. Picture: SENT IN BY EDWARDS AND BLAKE - Credit: SENT IN BY EDWARDS AND BLAKE

An independent caterer which serves up fresh healthy dishes to students and businesses is looking to expand its Norfolk headquarters after a bumper year of new contracts.

Edwards and Blake, based on Swaffham's EcoTech Innovation Business Park, serves up dishes to 130 different organisations and schools across the east of England .

It won 30 new deals last year – double 2015's total – and will take on another 10 school contracts in April.

Now in its 20th year, the firm employs 750 people from operational managers to kitchen staff – 255 of whom are based in Norfolk.

Co-founder and director Caroline Blake, who set up the business with catering colleague Shirley Edwards, predicts a £20m turnover this year.

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The pair started out in November 1997 in an office above a card shop in Norwich Road, Dereham, and won their first contract with Langham Glass café in 1998.

From its five initial staff members, the company has grown into the region's leading contract catering company.

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And because of its success the Swaffham headquarters needs to expand into a bigger building, due to high staff numbers.

That could mean extending its current base, or relocating to a larger building in the area.

Mrs Blake said 70% of its business was through school providers, which had been boosted by the growth in academies.

She said: 'I have to pinch myself every now and then. We started from scratch. I don't think we could have foreseen how successful we have ended up.'

Edwards and Blake use locally-sourced produce and serve it up to firms and schools – from nurseries to further education colleges – across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire.

Businesses which use Edwards and Blake for their staff catering include Birds Eye, Volvo, Moy Park chicken factories and Kerry Foods.

Mrs Blake said contracts with businesses were not growing as quickly when compared with education providers because of cost cutting and financial pressures.

But school deals were on the up because academy chains had more autonomy over budgets.

Edwards and Blake was last year named in the 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain, recognising the country's fastest-growing businesses.

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