Inspiring ‘wartime spirit’ helps Leeds firm rise from ashes

6 September 2013...    Firefighters tackle a major blaze at Airedale air conditioning factory on the A65 Leeds Road in Rawdon
6 September 2013... Firefighters tackle a major blaze at Airedale air conditioning factory on the A65 Leeds Road in Rawdon
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WHEN a blaze ripped through Airedale International Air Conditioning in 2013, the workforce showed true Churchillian “wartime spirit” and vowed to rebuild the business.

Airedale is looking forward to returning to its former home later this year, after a multi-million pound refurbishment has been completed on the fire-damaged building in Rawdon, near Leeds. The company is also poised to open a London office so it can tap into the lucrative South East market.

It’s a far cry from the day in September 2013, when a fire broke out in the company’s air conditioning factory.

At its peak, 20 fire engines and 100 firefighters battled the blaze, which devastated a three-storey warehouse building.

Roads had to be closed as the blaze sent plumes of smoke hundreds of feet into the air.

Luckily, none of the 330 staff was injured, and the company secured temporary premises at Gelderd Lane in Leeds.

“There are a lot of people who have worked here for a long time,’’ said Louise Gardner, the company’s public relations executive. “There was a real sense of shock. But it was like the wartime spirit with everyone pulling together.”

Bosses at Airedale, which is one of the biggest UK manufacturers of precision air conditioning units, have been impressed with the commitment of their staff, who rolled their sleeves up to get the business back on track in their temporary home.

Today, the firm’s staff numbers in Leeds have risen to 442, out of a total labour force of 596 permanent employees, which includes 34 in South Africa. By January 2014, just four months after the fire, manufacturing output had returned to normal levels. In April 2014, manufacturing output hit a 26 month high.

Its growth has also been driven by acquisition. Last year, Airedale’s parent company, Modine Manufacturing, bought Barkell, a manufacturer of air handling units, which is based in Consett, County Durham, for an undisclosed sum. Over the last year, the company has also opened a Dubai office and established a training academy at its temporary home on Gelderd Lane.

The company, which has a group turnover of more than £57.5m, is hoping to start a phased return to its old home in Rawdon later this year.

Clive Parkman, the firm’s managing director, said: “Without our people and the full support of our parent company, Modine, we would not be where we are today. I would like to thank everyone involved, including our suppliers and partners, for their fantastic support and commitment which saw us get back on our feet so quickly and achieve a stronger position than ever.”

The company, which was founded in a tiny workshop in Baildon, near Bradford in 1974, is due to open a London office on April 1.

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