Shelforce, the window manufacturing arm of Birmingham City Council, has undergone a major re-structuring over the past 2 years, and 2015 sees the organisation in a very healthy position with new contacts underway and discussions in progress with a raft of potential new customers.
Set up in the mid 19th century as part of the Royal School for the Blind, the company initially provided the blind with the opportunity to find useful, paid work in the manufacture of small items such as brushes. Now known as Shelforce, the company has produced PVCu windows, doors and curtain-walling since 1984 from its modern manufacturing unit in Erdington. They have remained true to their philanthropic heritage, as 75% of the workforce is listed as having a disability, such as Autism, hearing impairment and mobility issues among others.
The company suffered along with many others during the recession, and underwent a model re-design in early 2013 to ensure its long term future. Howard Trotter joined as Business Manager with the remit of making Shelforce a commercially viable enterprise once again. Howard advises, ‘We do a lot of good work here providing people with disabilities with gainful employment, but at the end of the day we’re a business that needs to work, just as any other successful enterprise does. We understand that what the customer wants is a top quality product, delivered on time, and at the right price. If we miss out on any of those aspects the customer will buy elsewhere, so our team here is committed to achieving those goals.’
One of Shelforce’s major customers is builder Willmott Dixon, who is a maintenance partner to Birmingham City Council (BCC). BCC has a social housing stock of 62,000 homes and also operates schools and new build programs. Willmott Dixon recently won a tender to supply 600 composite and PVCu residential doors and awarded the contract to Shelforce. Willmott Dixon has stated that it is ‘proud to work with Shelforce, whose unique approach supports people who often face the greatest barriers to employment. Their work has a hugely positive benefit on local families and communities.’
A requirement of the contract was that all doors must be independently approved to the PAS24 security standard. This led to the eventual selection of MACO’s C-TS door lock and Guardian ASP profile cylinder as the locking system. Howard explains, ‘We use MACO’s RAIL security lock on our windows so know that their quality is top notch and the performance meets, and usually exceeds, the required standards. Added to that, the support we receive from MACO is excellent. We saw the C-TS flood door at the FiT Show and were impressed by the ease of operation so made enquiries that eventually resulted in the lock’s selection for this contract.
‘We buy our MACO through VBH, who worked closely in partnership with the manufacturer and ourselves when drawing up the spec. VBH is the biggest independent stock holder of MACO products and hold massive stocks of MACO hardware. We can rely on them to deliver on time to keep the factory running smoothly. Dan Powell of VBH and Stuart Stimpson from MACO are always on hand and are themselves becoming vital parts of the team.’
Although Willmott Dixon/BCC is a major customer, Shelforce also serves other customers including installers and builders. They are also in talks with a number of other local authorities and housing associations and have plenty of spare capacity to fulfil additional orders.
Howard has overseen the construction of a brand new display area at one end of the factory, which they encourage customers to use as their own showroom. Shelforce’s standard product range is on show, as is the MACO Z-TA electronic operated door that is offered as an option. Howard says ‘Many of our customers don’t have the means to display the doors and windows they supply. They can bring their potential clients to us to view the finished products, and because the display area is situated within the factory itself, the clients can see the manufacturing process for themselves. We hope they’ll be impressed with the cleanliness and order of the factory and that will help persuade them to place their order.’
One organisation who recently placed an order is Oscott Manor School for children with Autism. Each Friday, pupils from the school attend work experience sessions at Shelforce. The supervised sessions extend to the factory floor so the children will have the exciting opportunity to help make the windows for their own school.
Howard concludes ‘The staff at Shelforce all live and breathe by the three bywords ‘passion’, ‘commitment’ and ‘teamwork’. These reflect passion for the company’s past and what can be achieved in the future. As the majority of the team overcome difficulties in their everyday lives, this stands them in great stead to achieve well in the working environment. They are committed to each other and to their customers, and to working together to provide the best products possible. Teamwork sums up the importance of working together for the good of everyone in the partnership. This includes Shelforce and its staff, our customers and also our suppliers.’
It’s an exciting time in Shelforce’s long and varied history, and one which should give everyone involved confidence that the story will continue long into the future.