Latest News | 27 June 2024

King’s Award winner urges others to follow its ‘lead’

Midland Lead Ltd
Ask the Chameleon
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Back in May, Midland Lead was one of seven Derbyshire companies to be recognised with a King’s Award for Enterprise. The Swadlincote firm, which is the only UK manufacturer offering machine-cast lead sheet with an environmental product declaration, has been awarded the King’s Award for Sustainable Development. Here, we interview Francoise Derksen, managing director at Midland Lead, about why the firm decided to enter – and why other Derbyshire firms should consider doing so.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your company.

Midland Lead is an independent, family-run manufacturer in Swadlincote, and we have been recycling lead sheet since 1983.

Along with my partner, Boudewijn Tuinenburg, we aim to be the best lead sheet manufacturer in the area, for our UK and overseas customers, our staff and the community.

We are passionate about manufacturing – it still makes me proud seeing new lead sheet being made or showing people around our site – and promoting the sustainable qualities of lead.

When I first started at Midland Lead, I was involved in marketing and social media for the company.

I moved on to HR as we decided to focus on attracting the right staff and creating the right environment for them to flourish.

I wanted Midland Lead to become an employer of choice, where people wanted to work, and stay.

Most recently we have been nominated by the British Chamber for the national ‘People and Work Business’ of the Year, recognising our investment in workforce transformation.

Now my focus is shifting towards sustainability. We are only at the start of this journey – which comprises of different aspects, such as focusing on our energy consumption and formulating a Net Zero strategy, to giving back to the community and developing skills and promoting sustainable behaviours.

What kind of things are your products used for?

We supply a wide range of lead products to the construction and healthcare sector.

Our lead sheet is used for weatherproofing in roofing applications, or radiation protection in healthcare projects.

We also supply lead moulds, used as ballast in a variety of applications.

Our customers include builders’ merchants, contractors, and construction companies, both in the UK and overseas.

You will see our lead on the roof of Derby’s Victorian Market Hall, in the new hospital x-ray suite in Dubai and the restoration of the Georgian House at Hampton Court.

What made you decide to apply to the King’s Awards?

Our products are made from 100% recycled lead and nothing in our production process goes to waste.

As a manufacturer of such a sustainable product, it was a natural step for us to set sustainability goals for our processes and people.

With some encouragement from local business friends and the Lord Lieutenant’s office, we decided to enter the awards and ‘have-a-go’. We also knew we would receive feedback on how to improve, if unsuccessful.

Describe the feeling you had when you found out the company had been successful.

I was both extremely proud and a little surprised when we heard we won the King’s Award for Enterprise first-time round.

As a business owner, you’re always working on improvements, what can be done better, and how to get there.

Preparing for an award entry is, for me, a moment to reflect on our achievements and take time to enjoy the progress, benchmarking against like-minded businesses.

To receive this Royal recognition is very uplifting for our entire team.

Midland Lead’s award was for sustainable development. Talk us through some of the measures that have been implemented that have resulted in this recognition.

For Midland Lead our sustainable development journey is far more than our strategy towards Net Zero.

Our measures are focused on four UN goals that promote good health and well-being, quality education, the use of clean energy and responsible production.

Since 2021, we have reduced our carbon footprint by 34% through installing 569 solar panels on site – generating around 210,000 kWh of clean green energy – investing in an electric forklift fleet and replacing lighting on-site to include LED and motion sensitive technology.

But we also invested in the well-being and development of our team through implementing a pay and progression structure for our operatives, including training, and developing a well-being plan for our staff including toolbox talks around nutrition, alcohol and drugs, sleep and 24/7 online (mental) health support.

Partnerships with our community play an important part in our sustainable journey too.

We provide lead sheet and ancillaries free of charge to more than 20 colleges, to train the next generation of roofers.

And we enjoy supporting small charities and not-for-profit organisations that make a difference in our area.

Clearly, teamwork plays a crucial part in any success. Describe the role the whole team has played in helping Midland Lead win this award.

Our company culture is based around values where we encourage the team to be curious, give us feedback and come up with solutions that will make us a better employer and manufacturer.

We constantly talk with the team about our challenges and goals and ask for input and feedback on how to move forward.

For example, we have changed our working patterns based on their feedback and suggestions, which has increased productivity and provides a better work-life balance.

Genuine two-way communication with our team plays a huge part of our success. They now come to us with ideas and solutions we should implement, for example we now have a ‘buddy-system’ in place to support new staff inductions and we have introduced a ‘productivity bonus’.

Midland Lead does a lot to ensure the wellbeing of staff. What has the company done to make all employees feel part of the team?

Some time ago we completed an HR exercise with our management team, and it demonstrated that our company culture was ‘results-driven’ and ‘caring’.

We make a real effort to make Midland Lead a great place to work; through training and development, providing benefits that are appreciated by the team, regular staff meetings where we celebrate success and set out our plans, well-being toolbox talks and staff treats and parties.

But I think what makes us different, and what makes our employees truly feel part of the team, is that we listen to them and ask for their input.

We recognise that by sharing information and asking for feedback and ideas on how to improve, our future sustainability goals are achievable, and we couldn’t do this without the buy-in from our workforce at every level.

In terms of the future, what’s next for Midland Lead?

Over the last few years, we have focused on gathering data and understanding our energy usage (sub monitoring), alongside investments to reduce our energy consumption.

While we will continue to invest in energy-efficient solutions (power voltage optimisation, solar energy storage), we are now ready to firm up our sustainable strategy, set KPIs and really focus on sustainable behaviours.

From working with both staff and customers on reducing our ‘waste’ on the production lines, reducing complaints by getting things “right first-time”, working with lean experts to increase productivity, and focusing on preventative maintenance.

As for the team, with the help of an external coach we have created our own ML Generation Next, who are a team of operatives and office staff drawn from across the company who look to improve working at Midland Lead for all.

They have improved internal communications, created the buddy system, improved housekeeping, and much more. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this team.

What would you say to other companies considering applying to the King’s Awards?

To go for it, and bear in mind these tips:

  1. Tell your story: While focusing on the achievements you have made in your sustainable development, make sure you tell your story. Where did you begin, why, where are you now, how did you get there and what is coming next?
  2. Think beyond Net Zero: Sustainable development is so much more than energy reduction, carbon footprint, net zero. It’s about equality, skills development, productivity, inclusion, giving back to the community.
  3. Back it up with facts and figures: we really focused on sharing the data and facts alongside the story of our sustainability journey. Make sure you have a few years of data relevant to support the award entry.
  4. Ask for help from experts: we wrote our award together with an award-writing expert – Ask the Chameleon – and used the support from the Lord Lieutenant’s office. Take your time and get others to proofread your drafts and give comments.
  5. And last but not least, do it! It’s such an honour and privilege to receive this Royal recognition for your business.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank our Derbyshire business community for their support in our development and success – particularly those micro-businesses that have helped us with their expert knowledge, and the local SMEs who are willing to share their best practices so that we can grow and learn.

We really feel privileged to work in such a tightknit supportive community.

To find out more about the King’s Awards and how to apply visit .

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