For 50 years, up to the end of the Sixties, a visit to Cadbury's chocolate factory was legendary; several million people - from schools, women's institutes, churches, youth clubs and social clubs - went during that period. They were treated to a guided tour, passing on the way great vats of cocoa butter and women in white supervising conveyor belts filled with chocolates. Visitors were allowed to pick chocolates from the conveyors and eat them as they went around. And to finish, there was a cream tea. Then they boarded their coach, carrying a bag filled with free goodies. "Make the Day! Make the Day! With Cadbury's Milk Tray!" Visits to the factory were stopped in 1970; automation meant that there was much less to see, and there were also new health and safety legislations. People did not forget them, though, and letters requesting visits continued to pour in. So in 1990 a visitors' centre - called Cadbury World - was opened in the grounds of the factory.
The focus of a Cadbury World visit is the tour of an exhibition, which consists of videos, models, life-size tableaux, photo-graphs, text and recorded commentary. At the start, is a simulated Central American forest, which is where the Aztecs first made a drink called "chocolatl" (you can try a sample). Next, is a display centred on Charles II, highlighting the fact that drinking chocolate became fashionable in Britain during his reign.
Further on there is a video display about Cadbury's Dairy Milk, which was launched in 1905. Other sections cover the history and technology of growing cocoa and making chocolate.
The only vestige of Cadbury's old factory tour is a walkway which gives a view into part of the packaging plant. But in a demonstration area workers show how hand-made chocolates were produced up to the 1930s. (You can buy hand-made chocolates in the shop.) Half-way through the exhibition, visitors can take a ride on "Cadabra" - small, four-seater "beanmobiles" that travel through a fantasy landscape with animated cocoa beans. There is a fun element, too, in the Fantasy Factory, which shows chocolate being made by Chuckle Bean and friends.
Two new attractions for 1998 are the Chocolate Coronation Street, as it appears in the titles of the programme, and the interactive Planet Astros, based on the television advertisement for Cadbury's Astros.
Cadbury World caters for a wide range of visitors - school parties from key stage 1 to A-level, adult groups and families on days out. The ride on Cad-abra is guaranteed to send people of all ages away with a foolish grin on their faces. Being given a chocolate bar at regular intervals also does wonders for morale.
The extent to which the centre is a useful educational resource, depends on the approach taken by the teacher. The story of chocolate has the potential to reach in to many areas of the curriculum - history, geography, science, design technology, business studies, food preparation - and the Cadbury World exhibits can support all of these. The exhibition is well designed, carefully laid out and easy to understand. For a class to get the most from it, however, some advance spadework is necessary.
The free preparatory visit would be a good time to pick up one or more of the centre's education packs. These are produced with the help of local teachers and include The Chocolate Trail for key stages 1 and 2, Mixing and Melting also for primary, The Cadbury Family for key stages 2 and 3, and The Chocolate Challenge, a design activity for key stages 2 and 3. Cadbury World education staff are also providing more support for general national vocational qualifications on topics such as food production, marketing, and leisure and tourism. Every month there are one or two special events, ranging from "Chocolate Lovers' Weekend" to a "Victorian Week" in September that will provide links to key stage 2 history.
Everything at Cadbury World is clean and colourful, there is lots to see and do, and the staff are friendly And, of course, there is the shop: chocaholic's dream, weight watcher's nightmare.
Cadbury World, PO Box 1958, Bournville, Birmingham B30 2LD; tel: 0121 451 4159; Web site: http: www.cadbury.co.ukcadworld.htmAdmission: adults pound;5 (pound;4.60 off peak); child pound;3.50 (pound;3.20); school groups pound;3.50 (pound;3.20), one adult free with10 children