By Tom Keighley, The Journal
A SUBSEA engineering specialist, a construction firm and an international e-commerce business born out of a garage were all among the companies honoured at the Durham and Wearside Business Awards.
Organised by The Journal and its sister paper The Gazette, with support from the North East Chamber of Commerce, the second heat of the North East Business Awards was a triumphant celebration of innovation, skills and growth across the Durham and Wearside areas.
It was a company that has grown from the confines of a household garage to reach customers all over Europe that scooped this year’s top honour – Company of the Year at the 2015 awards.
Bowburn-based kitchen and home appliance specialists Andrew James UK Ltd has grown sales beyond its North East base to encompass the UK and Europe — pushing turnover to £17.4m in 2014.
The big award was just one of several for the 98-strong family company, which also picked up the Let’s Grow Award, sponsored by Swinburne Maddison, and the Digital and Social Media Award, sponsored by Sunderland City Council.
A retailer of more than 600 products, it has grown considerably since 2005, when cousins Andrew Tomlinson and James Buckle were inspired to launch a business after using a raclette grill brought back from Germany.
Speaking shortly after taking to the stage to collect the award, Andrew James co-founder James Buckle, said he was thrilled to be recognised among the strong entries.
He said: “I’m a Durham guy and this award just makes me so proud. We’re an ambitious company and we’ve grown considerably since we started around nine years ago.
“The award means a lot for our workforce, who have done a spectacular job in bring us to where we are today. We want to continue to attract the best people to work for Andrew James and a win like this will help us to do just that.”
Phil Rostron, Andrew James’ design and media manager, collected the Digital and Social Media Award on behalf of the firm.
He added: “This is a great incentive to keep going and build on all the hard work we’ve already put in. Andrew James is a close knit family company, and that follows in everything that we do. We’ve put a lot into being one of the best online retailers, and it’s a great feeling to see it has paid off.”
Andrew James was crowned the cream of the Durham and Wearside crop at a black-tie awards night at Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham, in front of more than 300 people from across the region.
Hosted by BBC Look North presenter Jeff Brown, the awards spanned 12 hotly contested categories which honoured a diverse range of sectors from subsea engineering to medical technology and construction to retail.
County Durham-based sight loss technologists PolyPhotonix Ltd picked up this year’s Innovation Award, sponsored by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
The company’s CEO Richard Kirk said: “It’s really great to win, but this is really about the recognition of our stakeholders. We’ve had a lot of help from the likes of the government and InnovateUK, as well as a number of other investors. This award is about recognition of those who bought into what we do. Our work has been considered controversial and is in a difficult area to crack. Those stakeholders have really put a lot of faith in us and it’s great that can be recognised.”
The Small Business Award, sponsored by University of Sunderland went to ELM Electric Vehicle Charging Solutions, which was founded by partners Suzie Guest, Dan Martin and Anthony Piggott in 2013.
Ms Guest said: “We’re so pleased with this award because all three of us took a big risk in leaving secure jobs to launch this business. We may be small but we’re unique in what we do in the UK. Our industry is going from strength to strength and we hope that will mean growth for us too.”
NCJ Media managing director Stuart Birkett opened the awards night be praising the “truly amazing and inspiring entries” and acknowledged that many nominees were first-time entrants.
He used the event to make a speech which pointed towards renewed optimism for the North East, and also touched on businesses’ disappointment at the recent rejection of Durham’s growth plan.
Mr Birkett said: “Things are looking up for the regional economy and we’ve got a great deal to be proud and confident about. Unemployment is declining here at the fastest rate in the country, though it’s still too high. Durham and Wearside continue to punch well above their weight in manufacturing and export terms and many locally based businesses have been reporting improved fortunes in the latest round of corporate results.
“But the North East still faces a number of challenges. Public-sector budgets continue to be under pressure, we need to come together to sort out regional devolution and the private, public and third sectors all need to work even closer together to encourage ambition and enterprise.
“On that point, it was very disappointing that Durham’s local plan for future growth and development was rejected last month by the Government’s planning inspector.
“I’m no politician, but I might have understood had it been too pessimistic, too old-fashioned or too low-tech. But being rejected for being too ambitious is, at least on the face of it, difficult to understand.
“It was, therefore, encouraging to see the business community, and a number of prominent individuals, come out to publicly support Durham County Council’s plan to grow the economy.”
Organised by The Journal and its sister paper on Teesside, The Gazette, the annual competition is held in association with the North East Chamber of Commerce and turns the spotlight on the last 12 months in businesses large and small from across the region.
All the winners from the Durham and Wearside event go through to the regional final, which will take place at Hardwick Hall in Sedgefield next month.
The full list of winners:
Newcomers of the Year – Redu
Green Award – Groundwork NE & Cumbria
Manufacturing Award – Encore Envelopes Ltd
Let’s Grow Award – Andrew James
Heart of the Community – Esh Group
Export Award — Tekmar Energy Ltd
Services Award – Samwon Tech (Europe) Ltd
Apprenticeship Award – Hodgson Sayers Ltd
Innovation Award – PolyPhotonix Ltd
Digital & Social Media Award – Andrew James
Small Business Award — ELM Electric Vehicle Charging
Company of the Year – Andrew James