Union Industries

The Best of British

History

The company was formed by Paul Schofield in 1972 as a tarpaulin manufacturing and repair business operating in Hunslet, Leeds, England. It was run along traditional lines until 1991 when its activities were moved into Union's newly enlarged and refurbished factories, locally known as 'Angel's Wing' (so called because of the two large golden flying angels guarding the atrium entrances).

Today, Union has become a leader in the manufacturing industry with the development of the current range of High Speed Industrial Roller Doors for factories, cold stores, warehouses and distribution centres.

We support many organisations by offering a range of Environmental Products, including Industrial Curtains, Toxic Containment Enclosures and Energy Saving Systems, and also Decontamination Units.

Our General Trading team continues to offer individuals and businesses advice on bespoke Industrial products in Canvas & PVC, Ropes, Twines, Lashings, Webbing Assemblies, Nets & Safety Harnesses and Flags & Banners.

Union Industries became an Employee Owned company at the end of November 2014.

Union's motto and guiding ethos has always been 'Take the best that there is and improve it' and will continue to be so!

The 1970's

Union Industries is the trading title of Ralph Ellerker (1795) Ltd. The company was formed as a Tarpaulin manufacturing and repair company operating out of a small factory in Hunslet, Leeds. 'Ellerkers' had served the needs of the rural community since 1795 as Cover Makers, Saddlers and Rope & Twine Merchants from its early 17th century establishment by Walmgate Bar in the City of York.

Acquired by the Schofield family in 1973 'Ellerkers' was run along traditional lines until 1991 when its activities were absorbed into Union's newly enlarged and refurbished factories in Leeds, known as Lion Works, Dreadnought Works and the administration block 'Angels Wing'.

Isobel Schofield joined her husband in 1973 when she took over the running of Ellerkers.

Here she had to not only learn all about ropes & twines, saddles, harness, tarpaulins and vehicle sheets which were the life blood of Ellerkers trading activities but also to measure, and design the multitude of products Ellerker customers had been in the habit of buying for centuries and manufacture them at Union's Leeds workshop.

She became an ace splicer of ropes in natural fibres of sisal, hemp, manila, cotton and all the man-mades from polypropylene to nylon and terylene in sizes from the slimness of a finger to the thickness of an arm. Fine Flax twine was used to hand net Rabbit Purse and Long Nets for Land Owners and Poachers alike.

If the products were not confusing enough the customers were something else - Dukes jostling with Gypsies for halters and bits; rustic farmers collecting Bailer Twine rubbing shoulders with 'Rockers' buying brass Rein Tips to decorate their leathers and the 'old boys' of York treating Ellerker's back room as a meeting place to suck their pipes, chew upon the latest gossip and argue the favourite for the day's big race.

Over the following 4 years Ellerkers was going from strength to strength and business was booming. The Schofield's renovated the fabric of the ancient 3-storey building and restored the interior, retaining the charm of the place with its distinctive smell of leather, rope and tar. Meanwhile over in Leeds Union's Tarpaulin business was also expanding and was sorely in need of someone to manage production.

In 1977 Isobel left Ellerkers in the competent hands of Jilly Blakeway its new Manager and threw herself into streamlining the manufacturing processes of Canvas Vehicle Sheets at Union's Lion Works.

Lion Works was in those days a rather run down Victorian building whose interior and conditions were typical of many industrial factories of the day. The general poor state of repair did not encourage methodical production techniques or efficient working practices.

The 1980's

Whilst Isobel was sorting out production, Paul was sorting out new markets. As far back as 1980 he realised that conservation of energy did not only have a positive effect on the bottom line but was also beneficial to the environment.

A range of dividing systems in Fire Retardant Translucent PVC Static Screens and Mobile Curtains was designed specifically for warehouses and factories. These were used to retain heat or cold in the areas where it was needed without wasting energy in controlling the temperature of the whole building.

In 1981 the control of toxic particulate during paint stripping and spray processes was becoming a concern to companies specialising in Aircraft Maintenance.

A range of Tensioned manually operated Mobile Curtains in specially formulated Fire Retardant PVC was incorporated in the range.

These, when used in conjunction with specially designed air filtration systems, prevented toxic particulate and paint over spray from spreading from the stripping and paint spray areas to the maintenance and office areas.

In 1983 the dangers to health from Asbestos insulation present in hospitals, schools, public building, offices and homes hit the headlines in America.

Union designed the UNICUBE™ - a primary 3-stage Decontamination Unit to protect contractors and the general public during the removal of asbestos from these buildings. The UNICUBE™ was patented and sold throughout the United States and UK and ultimately exported to all developed countries worldwide.

This led to designing specialist bespoke containment systems for nuclear, biological and chemical establishments.

See more on our Industrial Curtains Division.

Money was invested year on year to expand the business. Union’s premises were enlarged by purchasing two ex-chapels adjoining the original Lion Works factory.

One, renamed Dreadnought Works now houses the Engineering Department manufacturing the Matadoor™ range of High Speed Doors and the other named Angels' Wing now accommodates the Sales, Administration, Accounts, Design, Installation and Service Departments.

In order to cope with the growing order book the existing workforce had to be increased and Isobel began a training programme to attract young school leavers to join the company and improve their skills.

Building work was put underway to modernise the buildings, streamline the manufacturing areas and re-equip. The very latest Hi-frequency track welding equipment was imported from Sweden, to weld the new PVC coated fabrics that were just beginning to take over from the traditional Cotton Duck Canvas.

The Factory as it stands today is both well run and efficient and capable of manufacturing to the highest standards of quality the bespoke range of products in which Union specialise.

The 1990's

In 1990 Union designed and patented the AUTOSTACK™ a Class O Fire rated electrically operated vertically retracting screen designed to save valuable floor space and maximize the economical use of buildings. See more on our Industrial Curtains Division.

1991 saw Union become an engineering company with the development of the first High Speed Industrial Roller Door, the Matadoor.

Automatically operated fast acting doors for use in distribution warehouses, loading bays and factories had been around for a number of years.

Union became aware of their energy saving benefits from customers already using Union's heat and cold retention systems.

Our customers complained that these high speed doors were forever being hit and put out of action by speeding forklift trucks, costing excessive amounts in repairs and downtime. Union realised that if they were able to supply a range of doors that would withstand impact, reduce repair bills and downtime, they would have a 'winner'.

The 2000's 

2002 saw the launch of the revolutionary new Eiger Door specifically designed for Freezer applications. This remarkable door not only eradicates the build up of ice and frost around the door and the door opening, a problem synonymous with all traditional freezer doors, but also operates automatically at high speed and benefits from Union's Crash-Out and Auto-Reset facility.

This door was first greeted with understandable scepticism but now that it has been tried and tested and found to measure up to all the claims Union forecast, has been received with enthusiastic acclaim.

See more on our High Speed Doors.

2013 to present

2013 saw the introduction of the Picadoor – a lighter, smaller internal door for use by pedestrians, conveyors, pallet trucks, and trolleys.

The Picadoor has been specifically designed for these types of high use conveyor applications and pedestrian openings, with supermarkets (for store-to-shop floor doorways) and also machine guarding applications in mind and is proving to be every bit as successful as the other doors in our range.

In 2013 Paul & Isobel Schofield took the decision to sell the company to its employees to ensure its continuation for years to come.

In preparation of the transition to Employee Ownership, the search for a new Managing Director to succeed Mrs ‘S’ began in 2013.

Over 100 worthy applicants were whittled down to a shortlist and after some rigorous ‘grilling’ from two interview panels representing a cross-section of departments, Andrew Lane was appointed Managing Director early in 2014.

Union Industries became an Employee-Owned company at the end of November 2014.

Andrew, together with Union's design & management teams are today looking at and working on bringing new products to add to the Union portfolio - so watch this space!!!