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Almit Group looks to grow with major factory move
Dr Allan Mitchell, Almit Group's managing director, left, with Yorkshire Bank's Paul Wells, who supported Almit's move
When Amdega's conservatory factory closed in 2011, hundreds of workers' lives were left in tatters and the company's reputation in ruins. However, the site now has a new owner and Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill went to witness its rebirth.
FOR more than two years it stood idle, a victim of the unflinching and cruel devastation of the recession.
Its massive glass frontage, which once housed teams of busy workers, nothing but a transparent shell for its cavernous insides.
But now, the factory, a former flagship site of conservatory maker Amdega, is providing fresh impetus to an expanding North-East metal finishing business.
Almit Group, which has plants across County Durham, is transferring all of its operations to the Darlington base.
The family-run company provides powder coating for new buildings, wet spray services to protect pipework on oil rigs, chrome and silver plating, and an anodised coating to protect aluminium from corrosion.
It services are used on aluminium in buildings with added artistic flair and design for executive developments.
Stellar successes include high-profile work for the Football Association's new training base and billionaire Sheikh Mansour, who, while masterminding Manchester City's ascent to the echelons of the global football arena, has called on Almit to carry out specialist aluminium work on the club's training headquarters.
Bosses are now refurbishing the ex-Amdega factory, ahead of moving all of its divisions to the plant by 2015, with four separate buildings all undergoing renovation.
Its specialist coatings business, in Shildon, alongside its Bishop Auckland-based industrial anodising business and its aliprint venture, which carries out manufacturing services for anodised aluminium labels, name plates and business cards, will move to the plant, situated in the Faverdale area of Darlington, next year.
Its metal finishing division, based in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is expected to transfer in 2015.
Allan Mitchell, Almit Group's general manager and son of founders, Dr Allan and Irene Mitchell, says the factory will be a key component in its growth.
He said: “Making this move is a big step for the company because we are more than doubling in size and capacity.
“It puts us in a position where we can expand as, hopefully, the market picks up.
“We believe the market will be stronger in a year's time, the industry is nowhere near as good as it was before, but we have real optimism that there will be an improvement.
“We are starting to see a slight increase and the hope is that will continue in a positive direction and get back to previous levels.”
As Mr Mitchell explains Almit's vision, a bright yellow earthmover idles past carrying loads to what will become the factory's new foyer.
Inside, a workman, spade in hand, digs deeper to carve a trench for pipework, while in the adjoining plant, a handful of Almit's near 100-strong workforce arrange sheets of aluminium ready for powder coating.
This production line weaves its way to an enclosed section, which is home to white suited men brandishing spray guns.
They are busy treating metal to be fitted at Manchester City's training ground, a vast complex used by footballing superstars such as England goalkeeper Joe Hart, Champions League winner Yaya Toure, and £35m Argentine striker, Sergio Aguero, who is the former son-in-law of Diego Maradona.
The move to Amdega's old plant has allowed Almit to create 20 new jobs, and Mr Mitchell says they hope to take on another 20 workers next year.
Mr Mitchell said: “This building is very well-known and suits our needs. “We can get everything under one roof here, which is a major benefit, and this is exciting for us.”
It has also meant the firm, founded in 1981, has retained a legacy from the factory's previous era.
Security guards Jeffrey Kelly, Roy Marks and Chris Cumming, who looked after the site when the conservatory maker was in business, are now working for Almit.
Mr Kelly said it was a massive boost to see the factory operating again.
He said: “We had to look after it when it closed and seeing the new faces coming in and watching the place go through the changes is great for everyone.”
The fall of Amdega: Standing as the world's oldest conservatory maker, Amdega was a bastion of quality British manufacturing.
An order book boasting Hollywood stars Sir Michael Caine and Barbra Streisand, English cricketer Sir Geoffrey Boycott, and singers Sting and Bryan Ferry, its 137-year reputation was a proud one.
But that laid in tatters in April 2011, when it collapsed, a seeming overnight victim of the economic downturn.
Workers were told 188 people would be made redundant from its 197-strong workforce.
About 300 orders for conservatories, that each cost up to £150,000, were scrapped, with an 11th hour bid to save the firm failing.
Staff said they felt betrayed, Darlington MP Jenny Chapman called it disgraceful, and unions accused Amdega of treating workers with contempt.
A new management team tried to salvage the company, but changes from quality materials, such as hard-wearing cedar wood, to cheaper pine, and increased demands for repairs from customers, eventually brought Amdega to its knees.
It was later revealed the company had started trading again after administrators KPMG had sold the brand name to double-glazing firm, Everest, for an undisclosed amount.
Under the deal's terms, Everest was not responsible for outstanding Amdega orders and moved all operations from its Darlington base, ending hopes that jobs could return to the town.
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