Extract from Cllr. Sam Naylor’s speech on the occasion of bestowing Mr. David Roberts the Freedom of the Town of Northwich. Held on Wednesday 15th August, 2018.
‘Tonight we come together to celebrate and award a man who has given lifelong service to the community of Northwich, both as a businessman and as a local community statesman.
The Roberts Family Bakery has been part of the Northwich fabric since 1887, and David Pinkney Roberts was born into the Bakery dynasty on 22nd January, 1936. He is the youngest son of Frank and Jennie Roberts and was born at 445 Manchester Road, Lostock Gralam. David was educated at Victoria Road Council School and Sir John Deane’s Grammar School, so it is clear that he is a real live product of this Town, born and bred in Northwich and immensely proud of that fact. David did really well at SJD, where at various times he was a form captain, awarded school colours for 1st XV rugby, and made a 6th form Prefect, and believe me, as an ex SJD pupil myself, that is a very impressive record.
Between 1954 and 1956 David attended Manchester College of Technology and following exam success, he was awarded a national Diploma in food manufacturing specialising in cereal chemistry.
Like many young men in those days, David completed two years of National Service. He joined the RAF and served in Northern Ireland where he was a member of a small team operating a ground control surveillance unit patrolling the western approaches to the British Isles.
When demobbed it was natural for David to enter the family business, and by this time the Bakery was operating from the Rudheath site.
It needs explaining here that whilst David was attending SJD, his father Frank, at the age of 53, had the vision and foresight to use his life savings and a bank overdraft to acquire the Rudheath site, and, according to David the then Northwich Rural District Council Had equal foresight in granting planning permission for what is now the modern Bakery site. Sadly, in 1953, Frank lost his life in a car crash, David and his mother were passengers and fortunately escaped serious injury. So when David entered the business it was being developed and managed by his two older brothers.
Following many years of progression, David took over the reins of the company in 1986 and took many significant decisions in taking the business onwards and upwards. The now, iconic cooling towers and the Little Treats expansion are both down to David’s stewardship.
There is still a strong family involvement in the Bakery, and David’s daughter Lindsey is very much the outgoing and community face of the business.
It is known and recognised that the philosophy of the Roberts Bakery family business is to be able to apply a culture that reflects family values of fairness, decency and accommodation of weaknesses and expectations. It has been a basic principle of Roberts Bakery that in relationships with employees, that no matter how difficult these may become, everybody is treated with dignity.
When the bakery in Rudheath opened in 1952 there were 25 employees. Today there are 900 on the payroll. Thanks to the bakery’s location and the local community, the bakery has always had a stable workforce and it still holds regular long service awards and dinners for their many company pensioners.
The slogan ‘the customer is King’ was David’s focus on customer satisfaction that drove the expansion of the business to what it is today. This is best illustrated when I was holidaying in Cyprus last year, and whilst shopping in a local supermarket, there was the bread section with a line of Roberts sliced loaves!
It is clear that David has had a distinguished business background and in 1990 he commenced a 5 year stint as the Chairman of the Mid Cheshire Chamber of Commerce. He was also the Chairman of various trade organisations within the bakery Industry and in 1992 he was appointed to represent the Baking and Flour Milling Industries on the Government Committee to review the Health of the Nation food trade working group. A big highlight for David came in 2004 when at the Bakery Industry Awards Dinner in London, none other than Fiona Bruce presented him with The Special Award for Lifetime Achievement and Service to the Baking Industry.
There is no doubting that Roberts Bakery has brought tremendous wealth to our Town and that David has been a big driver in the company but in addition to this and what makes him a deserving recipient of a Freemanship is his endless contribution to and involvement in community and civic life.
I first came across David some 15 years ago when he joined me as a Governor at the Russet School in Weaverham. He soon became the Chair as he was clearly a man who by then had already given decades of service on many governing bodies including Leftwich High School and Sir John Deane’s College.
David is passionate about the Town and was previously the Chair of the Lion Salt Works Trustees and he is determined to get the best out of the river and the ongoing regeneration of the town and in particular protecting and enhancing its unique black and white architecture.
His special status and respect is best illustrated in that he is allowed to sit with Town and County Councillors when they are briefed by CWAC officers and developers on the progress of town centre regeneration. This of course is down to his role as the Chair of the steering group which has developed and delivered the Northwich Neighbourhood Plan.
David has worked tirelessly with others for the past 5 years in producing a plan which will hopefully protect and take forward the towns future and development up to 2030.
It has been both an honour and privilege to work with this man.