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Sharon Tooke, service manager at Norfolk Industries with worker Ian Laurence, and Shelagh Gurney, cabinet member for Adult and Community Services at Norfolk County Council, with some of the products produced at the Norwich factory in Oak Street
By shaun lowthorpe Business editor
Friday, December 7, 2012
A Norfolk firm which supports people with disabilities looks set to break even as it celebrated winning a new contract with retailer Argos.
Norfolk Industries, based on Oak Street in Norwich, has been relaunched and rebranded as it moves to focus on a core business supplying small animal bedding for pets.
Customers include Pets At Home and Asda and the firm which has a turnover of £285,000 and employs eight staff and supports a further 20 volunteers.
After previously relying on £200,000 a year funding from Norfolk County Council the business, is on course to becoming self sufficient and commercially viable after successfully gaining a new contract with Argos to supply its Snooze Flakes animal bedding in hamster cage starter kits.
Ironically, the news comes barely 24 hours after the government announced that the Remploy factory in Norwich is set to close.
Sharon Tooke, Norfolk Industries Manager, said: “Our employees have various disabilities including visual impairment, hearing impairment, and learning difficulties and we are proud to demonstrate that businesses can effectively operate with a diverse workforce. We aim to draw on people’s strengths and it is clearly working as the business is currently operating with real success.”
Ian Laurence, from Roughton, near Cromer, has been employed by Norfolk Industries for 30 years. The 53-year-old, who is visually impaired, said: “I have a wife and three children and it is important to me that I can earn and provide for them. The company are always willing to help staff and adapt where necessary so it is a good environment to work in.”
Penny, who joined Norfolk Industries six weeks ago, said she had previously had difficulty coping with other working environments, but said she had enjoyed the new environment.
“I really feel like a piece of the jigsaw, which finally fits,” she said.
Shelagh Gurney, cabinet member for adult and community services at Norfolk County Council, said the firm was a great example of a business working in an enterprising way to provide vital employment opportunities for people who perhaps would not be able to get a job.
“Currently very few local authorities are involved with sheltered workshops such as Norfolk Industries as they are not commercially viable,” she said. “However, the county council has successfully re-modelled Norfolk Industries and there are now plans for further diversification providing more job opportunities.”
Around 2,000 Tesco workers discovered their jobs were at risk after the supermarket giant disclosed the locations of 43 store closures including two in Essex - a Homeplus store at Chelmsford and a smaller store in Heybridge.