Exclusive: Unilever shedding more than 200 jobs at Port Sunlight

First opened as a soap factory by industrialist William Hesketh Lever in 1886, the Wirral facility houses both production and research facilities for personal care products. Tony McDonough reports

Factory built by William Hesketh Lever in Port Sunlight now owned by Unilever. Picture by Tony McDonough


Global consumer products giant Unilever is axing 225 jobs at its famous Port Sunlight factory and research complex in Wirral.

Opened by industrialist William Hesketh Lever in 1886, the facility currently employs around 1,800 people and specialises in personal care and household products. Unilever’s brands include Dove, Sunsilk, Rexona, Axe, Domestos and Lynx.

It is also home to one of the company’s key research centres with hundreds of scientists conducting groundbreaking research into new products for the business.

Unilever has told LBN that, as part of a global efficiency drive, the company is shedding 225 jobs at Port Sunlight. It said it had already made 125 people redundant in 2019 and that there would be a further 100 people leaving in 2020 and 2021.

The roles being made redundant are in IT, research and development and factory production. In a statement, Unilever said: “Like many businesses, we are always looking for ways to run our operations more efficiently and as priorities change, redeploy resources and people to follow.

“Last year, we announced some changes which impacted some of the teams across our Port Sunlight hub. Although these proposals were not connected or interdependent, they reflected our aim to be more efficient, more effective and more competitive as a global business.

“The proposals shared with employees included plans to relocate and reduce some business services roles (including IT), as well as changing the structure of one of our research and development teams, and the support team in one of our factories.

Unilever’s research and development facility in Port Sunlight. Picture by Tony McDonough


“Last year, we also invested in the refurbishment of part of Lever House, and relocated some employees from within the hub into this new, modernised area to service Unilever on an international scale.

“These announcements led to around 125 roles being made redundant in total in 2019 across our total Port Sunlight hub, with around 100 further roles expected to be made redundant in 2020 and 2021. We remain committed to supporting everyone through this difficult time.”

When William Hesketh Lever went much further than just building a soap factory. By 1988 he had started work on a village surrounding the site to house its workers. He called this part of his business model “prosperity-sharing”.

He built homes, communal spaces and even a theatre and to this day Port Sunlight remains one of the most picturesque parts of Merseyside, attracting 300,000 tourists every year.

Port Sunlight is now a conservation area which includes 900 Grade II-listed buildings within 130 acres of parkland. It is home to 2,065 people and comprises almost 1,100 residential properties.

Last year the Port Sunlight Village Trust unveiled a five-year plan to to grow revenues and visitor numbers and secure its future for generations to come. It has secured a ‘Resilient Heritage’ grant totalling £53,200 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a 12-month project called Brighter Future.

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