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Our History

Despite the disappearance of many famous Hunslet companies in the 1980s and 90s, some other long standing, but lower profile businesses came to the fore.

One company that continued the tradition of innovation and utilisation of old buildings is Union Industries, or, as it was originally called – Union Tarpaulin Co.

At a time when factories and businesses were closing, a young couple - Paul and Isobel Schofield saw the potential of Hunslet as a base for what started out in March 1973 as a tarpaulin manufacturer and repairer.

Originally Paul started Union Tarpaulins in a small shed in Meanwood in 1973.

The move to Hunslet in 1977 to what was part of a rundown brush making business was ideal for the space, and more importantly, the relatively cheap rental.

Victorian Lion Works had obviously seen days of prosperity - as witnessed in the offices by the elaborate moulded ceilings, grand fireplaces and mahogany cupboards. However, what started out as a money pit became a gold mine!

Lion Works did not however offer efficient production, subsequently resulting in heavy investment and refurbishing by the Schofield’s.

Isobel developed highly efficient common sense production techniques. Paul was meanwhile searching out new markets and developing new products, all with a commonality of Heavy Duty Industrial Textiles.

They were hungry for success, and 18-hour working days were one way of feeding their fledgling company.

1973 and 74 saw great industrial unrest. Three day working weeks, oil, gas and power shortages plus strikes.

Conservation of energy, and more importantly the saving of precious cash, posed a ready market for the rudimentary heat retention curtains, one of Paul’s earliest brainchilds. Companies large and small needed to not only keep working but also save precious cash and energy.

It was from the heat retention curtains that Union went on to develop subsequently even more effective ways of containing not just heat loss, but the prevention of harmful toxic airborne particles.

Nuclear, Asbestos, Chemical, Aviation and a myriad of other businesses became valued customers and users of the Unicube Controlled Access Systems. The incorporation of negative pressure air filtration ensured the level of protection required.

Union was now solving problems for nuclear generators such as Sellafield and by now a worldwide range of Asbestos Abatement Companies and Chemical.

Progress, product expansion, and the overall need for more manufacturing and storage spaces saw the acquisition of two large early Victorian chapels next door to Lion Works gave Union, which by now was renamed Union Industries, not just the extra space but the push to expand its products even further.

By 1989 Union had started to become not just a producer of heavy textile products but also a mechanical and electrical engineering business.

This fundamental change had occurred when the company started to manufacture what was to become, highly successful and innovative Rapid Roll Factory Doors.

The manufacture of High Speed Doors and the associated products today has made what was once a small, humble tarpaulin maker, into a multimillion pound organisation.

Its Yorkshire roots have, and continue to provide employment, skills and opportunities throughout the region.

Union Industries has brought back to Hunslet, in common with many other local businesses, the entrepreneurial drive and nowse and a can-do spirit, which so characterised Hunslet in its early days.

Even better is the footnote that in 2014 Paul and Isobel sold their company to their employees.

Since then, under the tremendous drive and leadership of its new MD Andrew Lane and his co-directors Alan Hirst and Tony Metcalfe, Union Industries has continued to thrive, expand and prosper.

As Paul said at the time, “Just because we die, why should our company?”.

Today, subsumed into what is now a very large manufacturing complex, the two old chapels still echo with the faith, grit and determination of modern times.

In the atriums, the two large golden angels Paul acquired from the 1994 Glory of Venice at The Royal Academy, trumpet the style, flair and panache of Union Industries.

A landmark to show what can be achieved with hard work, true dedication to their customers and its employees, who, today continue to make this a great company in the once renowned Hunslet.

The phoenix of Hunslet is once more rising from the ashes!