Ex-Remploy staff back in business with furniture company of their own

Former employees of the Remploy factory in Neath Port Talbot have come together to launch their own furniture business.

Ministry of Furniture is located a few hundred metres from the former Remploy site on Baglan Energy Park and is supplying all of what was the Remploy Furniture range, including chairs, tables, office furniture and presentation equipment for customers in schools, colleges and universities.

Eight former Remploy members of staff are involved in the new business, which has funding from NatWest, Finance Wales, RBS Invoice Finance and Lombard.

Managing director Graham Hirst, who led Remploy Furniture for 20 years, said: “The business is setting up with a small number of people and currently we are using ex-Remploy businesses in our supply chain. Wherever possible, we are also engaging with businesses that have a similar social focus to ourselves.

“As we expand we will get into light assembly and that will lead to further jobs.”

Remploy was set up in 1946 to provide employment and support for disabled people. A large network of factories was developed in the 1950s and 1960s employing disabled people.  Remploy’s furniture business in Baglan closed last September.

All of Ministry of Furniture’s four directors and four other members of staff worked at the Remploy plant, and half of the new business’ workforce are people with disabilities.

The directors worked with Annamaria Teague, Director of Business Banking for NatWest in Bridgend, Swansea and West Wales, and the bank’s Relationship Manager Alan Morgan to secure £60,000 of funding which enabled them to start up.

Mr Hirst said: “The loans from NatWest and Finance Wales combined with investment from the directors enabled us to set up the business.

“It was a far more philosophical and positive discussion with NatWest and RBS than we had with other banks because NatWest and RBS took a far more positive view of us - not as an early start-up business but as a phoenix business with a strong brand and demand, and they could see that.”

Ms Teague said: “Ministry of Furniture has four very competent directors who were previously employed by Remploy, and their business plan was outstanding. Based on the experience of the directors and on what they are looking to achieve by continuing to employ those with disabilities following the demise of Remploy last year, it was a business we wanted to support. Working alongside our internal partners RBS Invoice Finance and Lombard and working closely with Finance Wales we supported the development of a robust finance package for Ministry of Furniture which will help ensure their success.”

David Knight, West Wales Micro Loans Investment Executive at Finance Wales, worked with NatWest to structure the funding package, which includes a £45,000 micro loan from Finance Wales. 

Nicola Edwards, Micro Loans Fund Manager at Finance Wales, said: “Graham and his team have an impressive vision for Ministry of Furniture coupled with extensive sector knowledge and an ambitious business plan.  They’ve all worked together before and each of the directors brings complementary skills and expertise to the management team. Finance Wales is pleased to back the business by providing them with a micro loan to fund the capital costs of starting the business.”

The new business also has access to an invoice finance facility provided by RBS Invoice Finance. Business Development Manager Ben Leighton worked alongside Graham’s team to provide an invoice finance facility providing £150,000 of working capital.

Mr Hirst said: “Key to us is the invoice financing facility because our business is very seasonal so there are times of the year when working capital will be a real issue. Schools place all their orders around July and we do not invoice until September, so there is a little hiatus.”
Gary Lorimer, Head of Business Development at RBS Invoice Finance, said: “We feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to support Ministry of Furniture. This business will play a vital role in the south Wales community, and we look forward to supporting them to thrive and grow.”
The directors have also worked with Lombard, the asset finance arm of RBS, to provide a solution for their vehicle fleet requirements.

Nathan Mistry, Relationship Manager at Lombard for Swansea and West Wales, said: "It was great to work with the directors of Ministry of Furniture to identify a tailored funding option for their vehicle requirements, a low risk contract hire agreement. I look forward to watching the business grow and aiding them with any future capital expenditure plans."