Hailing our family business heroes

Family businesses sit at the very heart of Lancashires economy and are famed for their resilience and grit. Those traits have been more important than ever in the past year.

Throughout the pandemic we have seen these businesses and the individuals who work in them rising to the challenge in what have been unprecedented times.

From creating new products and markets to playing their part in the wellbeing of their communities, our family firms have done their bit and more.

To recognise that fact and to help us highlight their efforts, we asked our readers to nominate their ‘family business heroes’ and to share with us why they think that individuals particular efforts should be recognised.

Those put forward didnt have to be family members we wanted to hear about anyone that has played a crucial part in getting the organisation through the pandemic.

From the large number of great nominations we received, we have now chosen, with the aid of a specially invited panel, a list of those we consider to be Lancashire’s 2021 Family Business Heroes.

We publish them on these pages, in no particular order, to celebrate their efforts and the contribution they are making to Lancashires economy and their communities.

However, they are just a small representation of the spirit and values of family firms, who make up more than 80 per cent of the countys businesses and who are doing great things every day.

Lancashire Business View publisher Richard Slater said: “With the help of our readers we wanted to show our appreciation for the efforts of individuals within family businesses during what has been a tremendously tough time across all sectors of our economy.

We wanted to the share stories of their efforts to cope with the massive disruption, how they helped keep their businesses running and moving forward, their ideas and how they motivated others.

This is also another chance for us to showcase some of the inspirational and talented people that work in our family businesses, making a massive contribution to the life and economy of Lancashire.

We have been astounded by the strength, resilience and determination to do the right thing that shines through in these amazing peoples stories.

Family business continue to make a massive contribution to the economy, both here in Lancashire and nationally. In 2017 it was estimated that UK family firms contributed a staggering £657bn to the UKs gross domestic product.

Our selection panel

Iain Round, partner at Beever and Struthers, chartered accountants and business advisors

Iain has experience of providing all round business and accountancy advice to clients of all sizes, from start-ups and owner-managed businesses to listed companies.

He heads up the practice’s motor and transport and employment agency teams and is also a key member of the manufacturing and engineering team.

Nikki Whittle, partner at Brabners

Nikki is a partner in law firm Brabners’ corporate team and regularly works with owner-managed and family businesses.

She was named one of the region’s top 25 female entrepreneurs and innovators to watch in 2021 by Lancashire Business View.

Sue Howorth, co-director, Family Business Network

Sue has a background of more than 25 years in business development and leadership with UK and global organisations.

She co-founded The Family Business Network in 2014 and champions the sector, having developed a community of businesses, influencers and partners working together to support the generations of families across the UK and rest of the world.

Matt Hutchinson, senior business projects manager, Lancaster University Management School

With almost two decades of experience working with and for family businesses, Matt recently led the creation of Lancaster University Management School’s Family Business Excellence Programme.

It works with family firms across the county to consolidate and deliver their long-term ambitions.

Meet our family business heroes

Mark Merrick

Director, A M Seafoods

AM Seafoods, a second-generation family business, exports seafood produce to markets across the globe. Mark has ably steered the company through an onslaught of difficulties over the last year, including the global Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit complications.

Rosie Caunt

Area manager (Blackpool, Fylde, Morecambe and Lancaster), Alcedo Care Group

Rosie played a vital role in helping Alcedo to care for its vulnerable tenants during the most difficult months of the pandemic. She quickly tuned into growing concerns about the mental wellbeing of those isolated and encouraged her team to increase liaison with relatives unable to visit their loved ones, while providing support for the staff themselves Against this backdrop, Rosie was also instrumental in the group opening its Lancaster premises in late 2020.

Ian Steel

Keeper of the flame, Atkinsons Coffee Roasters & Tea Merchants

Atkinsons, a supplier of teas and coffees to the hospitality sector, was set to hit the £2m turnover mark before lockdown restrictions were announced, which resulted in 90 per cent of the company’s income disappearing overnight. Ian, whose wife Sue and children Caspar and Maitland are all involved in the venture, decided to push all resources into the digital domain, where soaring website sales became the company’s saviour. Though some staff were furloughed, Atkinsons made no redundancies and is beginning to recruit again.

Gwam and Sara Rajiah

Managing director and operations director, Bespoke Healthcare

Gwam and Sarah co-own Bespoke Healthcare, which operates Preston-based Greater Lancashire Hospital and is a provider of neurophysiology tests and IOM for surgeons and NHS hospitals throughout the UK. Over the last 12 months, the husband-and-wife team has ensured job security for their staff, continued to support staff both financially and emotionally, delivered the highest standard of care to their patients, some of whom are in intensive care, all whilst battling a serious and life-threatening illness in their personal lives.

Louise Birchall

Sales director, Birchall Foodservice

The pandemic hit the foodservice industry hard and fifth generation family firm Birchall Foodservice saw two-thirds of its customer base go into lockdown practically overnight. Louise stepped up and began reaching out to trade organisations to help facilitate their continued food supply as panic-buying hit the headlines. She created support mechanisms for hospitality businesses to enable them to facilitate takeaways and ‘at home’ food kits. She also played a key role in East Lancashire’s School Holiday Hunger campaign.

Breda Murphy

Owner, Breda Murphy

Following high profile positions in some of the top eateries in London and Lancashire, Breda launched her own highly successful restaurant alongside her husband, who is both co-owner and oversees operations and marketing, and her sister, the restaurant co-ordinator. The team created a great Lancashire business pivot story during the pandemic by introducing a new frozen ready meal concept, which is now a permanent part of the business, as well as running her restaurant with a marquee to facilitate click-and-collect orders.

Adam Turner

Managing director, Chorley Group

Adam has been part of the family motor business since he was a boy. Following in the footsteps of his father and aunt, he has continued their ethos of embedding the company into its local community and at the start of the pandemic Chorley Group donated six electric cars to the local NHS Trust to keep their workforce moving. They also provided a van to a publican and restaurateur to deliver food to residents in need, supported Chorley’s Youth Zone through fundraising, donations and legal services, and sponsored Chorley FC and its community work. The business itself has grown over the year, with the acquisition of its tenth and eleventh dealerships.

Neil Conlon

Business development manager, Conlon Construction

Neil has worked for more than two decades within the fifth-generation family business which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. He has contributed towards Conlon’s resilience during Covid-19 with initiatives including keeping all employees on full pay even when on furlough or isolating, organising supply chain forums and chairing the company’s CSR team which is supporting Lancashire Mind in 2021. Neil is also an enterprise advisor, a Lancashire Cornerstone Employer and active Skills Pledge member. He is vice-chair of the Skills and Employment Advisory Panel; supports Blackpool in the Community, Positive Steps, Chance2Shine, Preston Vocational Centre, Emmaus and Speakers for Schools.

Helen Broughton

Managing director, Danbro

Helen is the managing director of the Danbro Group, a business she founded with her husband, Damian, in 1999. Today, it turns over more than £170m and employs 150, virtually all of whom became homeworkers as the business reacted to the challenges of 2020. As well as caring for Danbro’s own team, Helen also lobbied government for furlough support for contractors throughout the country. Both Helen and Damian were granted MBEs for their work with the self-employed, small businesses and the local community, and Helen has served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.

Carl Knowles

Managing director, Elektec

Darwen-based Elektec Commercial Electricians is a family business dedicated to helping worthy organisations to survive through the Covid-19 pandemic. Carl has led initiatives such as offering free PAT testing to places of worship, charities, CICs and North West Air Ambulance, and providing LED lighting, heating and a hand-painted mural free of charge for Secret Santa CIC. The company has sponsored several local programmes, including East Lancashire Hospice Sunflower Appeal, Darwen AFC under-12s football team and Blackburn Foodbank. Elektec itself has doubled turnover and staff numbers during the pandemic.

Adrian Moeckell

Managing director, EWGA Wines

EWGA Wines was founded in the 1970s by Pamela and Gerald Moeckell and was passed on to son Andrew 20 years later. He has overseen the diversification of the business, including launching an online shop, local deliveries and a popular wine club offering monthly or bi-monthly subscriptions. Since Brexit became reality, he has also implemented a futureproof procurement system which overhauled the stock management setup and enabled the business to seamlessly adapt to new import requirements.

Laura Smith

Commercial director, Hawthorn Estates

Hawthorn Estates is a family-run building contractor specialising in insurance related repairs. During the pandemic, Laura led efforts to mobilise teams, investing heavily in training, PPE, and sanitisation products, and working closely with external health and safety consultants, to ensure that customers always had access to valuable support and guidance even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Jack Heyworth

Director, JD Engineering

Jack founded JD Engineering in 1979 and over the last 10 years has passed the company on to his daughter and Sub 36-award-winning son Phil. They’re not the only fledgling careers he has supported, spending decades playing a prominent role in the promotion of STEM careers in Lancashire. Holding a seat on the Pendle Vision board and working closely with Nelson and Colne College, he has been instrumental in the training of apprentices across many engineering businesses in the county.

Jason Rippingale

Managing director, JLR Combustion Engineering

JLR Combustion Engineering is run by husband-and-wife team Jason and Kate, also employing Jason’s younger brother and brother-in-law. The team provides manufacturing businesses with safety and breakdown services on their essential gas-fired equipment. Throughout the pandemic, Jason continued to attend emergency breakdowns and safety checks at client sites such as hospitals, toilet roll manufacturers, baby milk producers, surgical tape suppliers, makers of asthma inhalers and essential food and beverage factories. During the thick of the lockdown, Jason furloughed the others for their own safety, topping up their pay to 100 per cent and handling all breakdowns around the clock by himself.

James Varley

Managing director, Morecambe Metals

The disastrous fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic forced James, the current figurehead of the third-generation family business Morecambe Metals, to make some incredibly tough decisions. Reassessing processing techniques, overheads, margins, new markets, efficiencies and introducing a different approach and ethos on how to run the business resulted in a huge 162 per cent uptick in net profit, despite lower sales volumes and turnover. 

David Lenehan

Managing director, Northern Industrial

David, who has taken over day-to-day running of the company from his father, has capably navigated it through both the global pandemic and Brexit. The Blackburn firm, which supplies rare and obsolete parts for industry, continued to work with essential businesses such as the NHS throughout the lockdown. Despite the necessity of bringing staff into its building throughout these months, David’s rigorous approach to health and safety ensured there were no outbreaks within the team. Meanwhile, he has continued the company’s international expansion despite Britain’s complex exit from the EU.

Annette Weekes

Managing director, PDS CNC Engineering

Annette has managed the business, which was established by her father, through the pandemic which included dealing with the loss of its core customer base: the civil aerospace sector. PDS was able to tap into new areas such as medical, mortuary, food and robotics, developing new products and processes while retaining staff. This led to Annette establishing the Covid Manufacturing Cluster to help other manufacturers find work while establishing crucial supply lines for the NHS. She also raised close to £30,000 and over one weekend planned and delivered 15,000 meals to 3,000 children across East Lancashire during October half term. Away from PDS, Annette is a director of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, chair of the manufacturing sector group, and a director of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.

Rachel Crisp

Business development manager, Plumbs

Rachel’s impact on the fourth-generation family business has been undeniable. She has been the driving force behind taking the specialist upholsterers online, offering an entirely web-based service as an alternative to the company’s more traditional in-person consultations. After launching a new CoverMyFurniture website in September 2020, sales had increased seven-fold just six months later, providing a vital source of revenue during the pandemic.

Cameron Booth

Digital training manager, Redmoor Health

Cameron, nephew of Redmoor’s chief executive, began lockdown stranded in Germany while demand for the company’s services skyrocketed as the NHS and its partners reached out for urgent help. In response, he developed a package of support which he could deliver from overseas until travel restrictions lifted. This proved so popular with care homes and GP practices that other regions including Norfolk, Sussex and Salford began requesting support from Cameron's team.

Niraj Parekh

Operations manager, RK Dining

Niraj’s path to taking over from his parents was accelerated by the pandemic, which demanded fresh thinking from the business. He tapped into a new way of reaching customers, through apps such as UberEATS and Just Eat as well as social media channels. Though most of the company’s income would usually derive from catering for weddings, Niraj stepped into the roles of HR, manager, cook and delivery driver to keep the business afloat through alternative means.

Neil Bullows

Owner, The Whitehall Hotel

The Whitehall Hotel, a family business of more than 50 years, was forced to pivot when Covid-19 restrictions forced it to close its doors. Jenna Bullows, who had been working in the tourism sector, had the idea to create a gin, and soon the venue had installed a spirits distillery and converted a conference area into a space for clients to make their own products. It is now the only hotel outside of London and Edinburgh to allow wedding couples to craft their own gin favours, with the recipe retained for them to celebrate future anniversaries. Following the success of the gin, a rum and a vodka are now in development with several sizable contracts in the pipeline.

Chris Wareing

Director, Wareing Buildings

Chris Wareing has been a member of Wareing Buildings for almost 25 years, starting as a draughtsman before climbing the ranks to his current position as company director. During this time, Chris has been instrumental in the development the steel fabrication offering and was responsible for creating a dedicated, one-stop-shop design and build division which now accounts for 30 per cent of the company’s overall turnover. During the pandemic, he was the driver behind the implementation of stringent health and safety processes across the business, enabling a wealth of regional projects to go ahead as scheduled which also kept other Lancashire businesses operational.

Graham Lindsay

Managing director, Weru Windows

The father-and-daughter team behind Weru Windows, headed up by Graham who founded the business in 1985, has effectively navigated lockdown restrictions which prevented the company from conducting in-person surveys. Using technology such as Skype and FaceTime and putting into play a series of additional checks to ensure measurement accuracy, Weru has been able to continue serving customers, including fulfilling a 56-window project for a large bespoke residential build in the North East.

Rebecca and Cheryl Whittaker

Proprietors, Whittaker’s Butchers

Whittaker’s Butchers played a key role in keeping the retailers of Leyland Market active during lockdown. The company began taking orders for its own products via Facebook Messenger, a move that proved so popular they were soon also pulling in orders from other stalls, delivering fish, fruit and veg boxes, cooked meats, pies and bread across the county and beyond. The hard work and ingenuity of Rebecca and Cheryl, who had to purchase a van to handle the deliveries, kept several other stalls in business.

  • To read this feature in full and access further Lancashire business news, advice and analysis subscribe to Lancashire Business View magazine or join the LBV Hub from just £2.50 per month. Click here to subscribe now.