Dynamic manufacturers and talented apprentices from across the UK were recognised as manufacturing champions at the national EEF/Aldermore Future Manufacturing Awards.
Biggest winner on the night was Steeton-based Acorn Stairlifts, which scooped two awards and was crowned Winner of Winners – a title awarded to the most outstanding and inspiring company out of all the national winners.
The firm – which has been manufacturing and installing stairlifts for more than 20 years – won the Outstanding Export Award, given in recognition of its achievements in exporting into more than 80 different countries.
Employing more than 800 people in the UK and 1,400 worldwide, Acorn has invested heavily in overseas markets by setting up its own subsidiaries in the US; Canada; France; Germany; Italy; Belgium; Ireland; South Africa; Australia, and New Zealand.
The company’s turnover in North America is now higher than in the UK and it’s the market leader for stairlifts in the US.
It was also named runner-up in the Business Growth Award. Acorn’s turnover in North America has trebled from £19.5m to £58.6m in the past four years.
During this time, its worldwide exports have more than doubled from £35.7m to almost £80m. Every nine minutes, an Acorn stairlift is installed somewhere in the world.
Judges described the company as being truly inspirational and a great example of UK manufacturing success and growth through innovation in product, process and marketing.
Acorn’s Dave Belmont commented: “As a business, we have spent the last 20 years focussed on carefully developing stylish, easy to use and affordable stairlifts designed to meet the mobility needs of people around the world.
“We are passionate about all aspects of our business and today this dedication and focus has paid off. We hope our success will inspire other manufacturers and encourage them to share their achievements too.”
Judges were also won over by young apprentice, Philip West (25), an apprentice at Finmeccanica (formerly called Selex ES).
He was crowned Outstanding Apprentice of the Year after battling his way through regional heats to make it through to the national finals.
West was named the winner after impressing judges with his professionalism and the broad scope of his abilities.
In a glowing tribute, judges said that the Luton apprentice was not only making a significant contribution to his employer, but was also raising the bar for apprenticeships in his company, and industry more generally.
The young apprentice had also excelled academically, obtaining a first class honours degree and a blackbelt in six sigma.
Other award winners announced on the night were:
Outstanding First Year Apprentice: Jonathan Elley, GE Aviation Wales
Business Efficiency: The VEKA UK Group
Business Growth: Gardner Group Limited
Developing People: JF Renshaw Ltd
Environmental Efficiency: Schneider Electric (UK) Ltd and Wire Belt Company Ltd (joint winners)
Health and Safety: Stadco Ltd
Partnerships with Education: Lambert
Smart Product: Applied Component Technology Ltd and Jigsaw Business Group Ltd (joint entry)
Judges said that his keenness and enthusiasm had had a positive impact on colleagues and that he was a first class role model for other apprentices.
Describing the award as a “massive honour”, West added: “I know that many other young people and parents may be weighing up the benefits of an apprenticeship – all I can say is that it offers great opportunities and I hope my success demonstrates this.”
Not to be outdone, a former apprentice, Gareth Jenkins, Managing Director of FSG Tool & Die based in Llantrisant Business Park (Pontyclun) was named this year’s Manufacturing Champion.
The award was given in recognition of his tireless work in representing the sector and championing its cause.
Jenkins played a leading role in EEF in Wales for more than a decade, during which time his commitment and dedication to manufacturing was recognised by peers and the Welsh Government.
Having started his career in manufacturing aged 16, he was most recently chair of EEF’s Regional Advisory Board for Wales and has chaired the Enterprise Zone in Ebbw Vale and the Sector Panel for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing.
Currently chair on the TATA Task Force business and supply team, Jenkins said: “It’s easy to be passionate about a sector like manufacturing when you can see what, with the right strategy and support, it can deliver both economically and in-terms of careers and livelihoods for local communities.