Duffield Printers, on Kirkstall Road in Leeds, was hit by the Boxing Day deluge that caused the Aire River to burst its banks. Kirkstall Road was transformed into a waterway.
Owner Martyn Duffield was on the way to join his wife in Sydney, Australia when he got the call telling him his business was under a metre of water. Unable to rearrange his flights from his stop-off at Abu Dhabi he had to fly on to Sydney and then fly all the way home after just one day.
“I came straight from Manchester Airport, and walked into the place. It was knee-deep in water. It was a scene of devastation,” he said. “My immediate reaction was to go into Biggles mode. We got all the staff into the top floor office, we got the IT up and running. I had a meeting with staff on 4 January. I had to tell them their jobs were at risk. Every single bit of kit we had has been written off.”
Duffield, who bought the company in 1985 from a distant relative, originally thought to turn print manager while he rebuilt the business and he started contacting local printers. Meanwhile clients, while sympathetic, were placing work elsewhere. One of the local printers Duffield met was Bluetree in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. It was then he saw the writing on the wall.
“It gave me an opportunity to see how things looked in the big wide world. I saw the way print was going,” he said. “I’m so impressed with those guys. I saw the future of print was not how we do it. It made me think, at the age of 61 do I go on with this?”
He and Bluetree made a gentleman’s agreement for the latter to employ a number of his staff, following their redundancy. In return he paid them out without any covenants, so they could continue their relationship with Duffield clients.
Staff also got new jobs at other printers including Team Impression and Pressision. In all 23 of 27 staff have been re-employed in the industry and one elsewhere, two are retiring and one driver is still looking for work. All were paid their full redundancy allowance, Duffield said.
“We’ve got staff placed everywhere. They are all good people. We’re known in the industry; our people are a precious commodity,” he added.
“When a flood hits people are like startled bunnies. It was all in a mad rush with my intention of getting people into employment as soon as possible. I had absolutely no intention of winding the business up prior to that."
Duffield said the company, which ran kit including a 10-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 74, a five-colour Komori and a six-station Muller stitcher-trimmer, had suffered in the economic downturn but had been “on an upward trend”, showing a profit in the last quarter of the year. “In January we were ready to rock and roll. We had quotes from Komori and Ricoh and were planning to buy new kit,” he said.
“It was a good local company, with a £2m-£3m turnover.
“We are gutted, devastated. It’s been in the family for 127 years. Two world wars, recessions, depressions. I’ve taken the company through film, digital, floppy disks...
“I’ve cried my eyes out over it. It’s like a bereavement."
Duffield Printers remains active for now, as financial director Janet Broadbent chases invoices and Duffield prepares to wind-up the company and, as he puts it, “go down with the ship”.
Duffield said he was not in a position to retire but he may get more involved in the business now run by his two sons, Airedale House Ltd, which he jointly owns with them.
He said he was worried about dealing with the insurance claim but turning the whole building into office space was “the natural progression of things”.