Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Recycling venture is plain sailing

Sail maker and chandlers Tedfords has a long and proud tradition but is proving that it's not stuck on the same course by making the most of PVC waste to make tarpaulins

Sailmaker Ken Cameron who worked at Tedfords for over 48 years is hard at work back in 1991
Sailmaker Ken Cameron who worked at Tedfords for over 48 years is hard at work back in 1991

It's quite a leap from the romance of sail-making to rooting around the dump for reusable detritus, but it's one that's been successfully taken by one of Belfast's most long-standing businesses.

Tedfords Ltd, which has been around since the 1850s and which serviced the world's Tall Ships when they sailed into town, has taken diversification to a new level by turning someone's else rubbish into a highly sought-after commodity.

With a hearty nod to the green corner, Tedfords' use of another company's discarded PVC product has been an environmentally-friendly way of declogging Northern Ireland's landfill sites.

Through a business partnership initiative, Tedfords identified a use for PVC tarpaulin coverings discarded by Newtownards firm ThyssenKrupp Aerospace Ltd, which has a regular supply of the non-biodegradable product coming through its doors.

Through the collaboration, fostered by Invest NI's Industrial Symbiosis scheme, Tedfords now uses the discarded covers to make trailer and boat covers and has further plans to develop a wider product range with the material in the future.

Originally Tedfords Ship Chandlers, Sail & Tentmakers, the firm was started by James Tedford in Donaghadee before it moved to Donegal Quay, Belfast, in the 1850s, where a restaurant of the same name pays homage to the former company.

James Tedford also expanded into ship-owning, with his ships travelling to South America and the Caribbean, returning to unload their cargoes just alongside the shop.

In later years Tedfords began supplying tarpaulins to road transport firms and continues to do so today.

Tedfords was taken over by Kenneth Cameron, an employee of Tedfords Chandlers, in 1991 and the business continued there until April 2000 when it moved to larger premises at the Old Gasworks site on the Ormeau Road.

When Kenneth retired, he passed the company onto his employee and grandson Keith Bell who is joined as a director by his wife Jeanette. The company employs four people.

When Keith spoke to the Business Telegraph he reflected how the company was nearly consigned to the history books in 1991.

"When my grandfather was 15 he went straight into Tedfords as an apprentice.

"It then went into liquidation in 1991 and it was around the time of the first visit of the Tall Ships to Belfast so he decided to start it up on his own.

"My grandfather was from the Shankill and he came in as an apprentice sail-maker and he got the job purely because his father was the man that did the point control at the docks, Jock Cameron, who was a bit of a local personality at the time," he reminisced.

It was soon Keith's turn to join his grandfather in his business.

"I went to work for him when I was 18. I had left school with GCSEs and was doing computing but I found computers very boring.

"It was pure chance that my grandfather took over the business when the Tall Ships were coming in and he needed a hand."

Joining his grandad, who sadly passed away eight years ago, Keith helped Kenneth carry out repairs on the Tall Ships during their visit to the region.

"At 18, I was on some of the biggest yachts in the world so it was great to be involved in something like that," he recalled.

Keith said it was also around the same time that the use of their skills were employed in the new, large-scale advertising banners which began to spring up across the city.

That diversification became a large part of their business, which today includes this latest branch, recycling otherwise unusable PVC.

"It's stripped off big lorries and would go straight to the landfill, so we take it and add eyelets, making them into useable covers and it's a sideline into what we do, making the advertising banners which has come from the skills used in sail-making.

"It's not really a big earner but it's the green benefits that we like, that rather than going to a landfill site we can reuse it.

"We're moving with the times and moving with changing needs," he said.

Keith added that Tedfords even identified a source for the product it would discard itself, as he explains: "In-house, any waste PVC we have we try to hand that over to Play Resource," he said, referring to the local charity which collects industry waste which it recycles for arts and creativity purposes.

Olive Hill, Invest NI's director of innovation and technical solutions praised the "mutually beneficial relationship" between Tedfords and ThyssenKrup which "demonstrate how one firm's waste can be used by other businesses to achieve cost savings and/or additional sales".

"In turn, this can improve the overall competitiveness, sustainability and productivity of both parties."

Restaurant homage to a historic shipping industry

Tedfords Restaurant bears the name of the 160-year-old business – Tedfords Ship Chandlers, Sail & Tentmakers – which is steeped in Belfast's rich maritime history.

Though it has no link to the sail-making firm, it is housed in what was long the base of the original ship chandler's shop and retained the name in homage to once was part of a once-great shipping industry in the city.

Originally founded in Donaghadee by James Tedford, he eventually brought his ship-supply stores to Northern Ireland's capital in the 1850s. There it remained until recently, after changing hands into the ownership of one-time junior apprentice, Kenneth Cameron in the 1991s.

Keith Bell, who took over his grandfather's business, moved, not too far away, to more suitable and easier accessible premises at Ormeau Business Park in the Gasworks area.

But to this day, the Tedfords name persists – in both businesses – with the only link being that of the sea.

And while Tedfords the chandlery is famed for, amongst its newer range of products, its sails for the vessels of the high seas, Tedfords Restaurant is renowned for bringing to its culinary table the fruits from many fathoms below its surface.