Before leaving its factory, Clive Seakens explained that every completed doorset and all its components are rigorously tested as a ‘complete package’, since failure of any key component once the door is installed, and, for example, subject to abuse, could have serious safety implications.

The company’s beginnings After this discussion with the Stafford Bridge Healthcare and Education Sector Projects manager, I met with the company’s MD, Robert Hartwell, who explained how the business started. He said: “John McGill of Surelock McGill in fact financed and founded the company that is now Stafford Bridge. Chris Woods, our Production & Technical manager, and I, used to work for a local company, Bridgman Doors, and when that business went into liquidation 20 years ago, it owed Surelock McGill a significant sum. Bridgman predominantly manufactured fire doors, and, I believe, was one of the first fire door suppliers to get ‘Kite-marked’. It also produced Government-specified security doors.

“Our six years there taught Chris and I a great deal about a security doors and the industry. When it went into liquidation, John McGill announced that he would come in and set up a timber door company to produce security doors, the aim being to win Government contracts, and take on the ‘work in progress’ of Bridgman. I reported at the time to Bridgman’s Technical manager, Jim Russell, who John approached to run the new venture. The business was then established, with staff including me, Chris, Steve Bradley, our current Sales manager, and a number of others. Jim is still working here two days per week.”

Village roots

Robert Hartwell continued: “The business that is now Stafford Bridge (it was thus named in April 2000) started at the other end of the village in a former grain store, with the local farmer renting it to us for six months until we moved, in September that year, to one of the former farm buildings here. Our production has always been undertaken ‘in-house’, but, prior to the construction of the new factory and its fitting out with a range of automated equipment, with more manual work. There were also parts of the frames, for instance, that we had to buy in pre-machined, but that we can we now machine here ourselves.”

The Stafford Bridge MD went on to explain that the old stone building which has been converted into a showroom, adjacent to the offices where I had met Clive Seakens, had been ‘the first factory’, and the office now being renovated, the company’s first production unit office. He said: “We had a press in the corner, and two woodworking machines, and all manufacture was undertaken there. If we were lucky we produced a couple of doors


Left to right: Managing director, Robert Hartwell, Healthcare and Education Sector Projects manager, Clive Seakens, and Production & Technical manager, Chris Woods, pictured outside Stafford Bridge’s Pavenham factory.

a week. We gradually scaled up our production significantly over the years. As we expanded, we turned an adjacent storage building into production bays. We also moved equipment to several other locations around the farmer’s estate. As time when on, we established the machine shop in a former milling shed, and worked closely with the landlord as our need for more space, and thus additional buildings, grew.

Several different locations “Two years ago,” he continued, “we identified that we needed to move, since with several different locations in the village within a few miles’ radius, we were spending considerable time, and indeed consuming significant diesel, transporting our doors from one place to another. Moving all our production facilities into one purpose-built factory made practical and financial sense. The landlord didn’t want to lose all the business we were doing, so he put forward a proposal for a new 8,000 ft2 factory, and asked us to stay on that basis. Having looked around, this seemed the least disruptive solution. The landlord financed the building, and we fitted it out. Having taken 18 months to build and equip it, it began production in late 2016. “We were able to utilise some existing equipment, but also bought some new kit, such as the gentry crane you can see, which is mainly used to lift our security doors – some of which weigh up to 250 kg – either after we have put them on the test rig prior to dispatch, or for any other moving of them around the factory.”

Well-equipped factory

Production and Technical manager, Chris Woods, who had now joined us, added: “The factory also incorporates a

comprehensive range of woodworking machinery – including resaws, moulders, tenoners, a morticer, two highly programmable CNC machines, presses, a new sander, and a wall saw. We also have two spray booths. The only element we don’t produce ‘in house’ is the steelwork that goes inside our doors.” I wondered about typical order quantities. Robert Hartwell said: “It’s always hard to say, because our product range is so diverse. With hot pressing you can produce a door every 10 minutes, but when cold pressing, it is more likely to take 2.5 to 3 hours to manufacture one. The factory enables us to offer a really responsive service. We have undertaken million-pound contracts for various sectors.

‘Almost by chance’

“It was almost by accident that we ‘inherited’ production of seclusion room doors from Bridgman,” he added, “and they are something that we remain very good at. In those days, however, seclusion doors were very much an adjunct to the ‘main business’ of manufacturing blast and ballistic-proof doors. That remains our core business today, but with the new factory’s much enhanced production capabilities, and the showroom now complete, we are now really keen to develop and sell a wider range of doors into healthcare. We are very good at making timber-finished doors and a really robust product, and I know we can service the sector extremely well.”

Following our discussion, Chris Woods gave me a tour of the new factory, and explained some of the key production processes, before an interesting visit to Stafford Bridge’s Pavenham base came to an end.


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