29 May 2024, 12:04
By Furniture News Jan 05, 2021

Westbridge looks to the future

Westbridge, one of the UK’s largest upholstery manufacturers, overcame everything 2020 had to throw at it, and is now poised to enter a brighter – and greener – future, explains sales director (independents), Nichola Bell …

“Could 2020 have been any more challenging? Like everyone else, we’ve had to navigate the uncertainty of lockdown and furlough, followed by ensuring a safe return to work, and a peak of pent-up demand which has continued to remain high,” says Nichola.

“Most materials have had good availability – but, of course, like the rest of the trade, we’ve suffered with intermittent foam availability in the past few months, and the constant threat of Covid-related absences.”

 Yet such challenges often forge stronger, more adaptable businesses – and Westbridge is no exception. “The business is starting 2021 in a positive position, with an order book which is double that of last year’s starting point – we hope to see the raw material disruption dissipate and lead times return to normal by the spring,” says Nichola.

“It may be a cliche, but sometimes you just have to look for the positives in these unprecedented situations, and that’s exactly what we did. The lockdown enabled us to improve our employee engagement, to the extent that the business really felt like a Westbridge ‘family’, taking care of one  another and genuinely feeling part of the wider Belfield Group.”

According to Nichola, evolving customer demand has prompted Westbridge to double-down on one of its driving principles. “At Westbridge, we’re all about looking to the future, and the recent foam disruptions have encouraged us to look for alternative manufacturing methods,” she explains. “There’s also a real customer appetite for more sustainable products and responsible ways of working, so, during lockdown, we worked closely with Manchester Business School, developing a reusable/recyclable sofa – along with the associated logistics function – in partnership with one of our leading customers.”

Westbridge is no stranger to sustainable practices. When M&S created its Plan A project towards sustainable production in 2007, Westbridge was the first factory in the world (alongside a Sri Lankan lingerie producer) to become compliant, under Anthony Pydiah’s guidance. Now Westbridge’s senior quality manager, Anthony has been in the business for more than 30 years (see April 2020’s issue of Furniture News for more).

He says: “When we started, M&S was ahead of the curve in being so ambitious with Plan A, so we were able to partner with them and break new ground in reworking our site facilities with energy-saving initiatives to achieve a significantly lower carbon footprint. 

“Now, it’s just the way we work, and we pretty much take it for granted. For example, our waste management continues to be zero to landfill, and everyone here just expects that’s what we do. The environmental programme never stops – for example, we recently installed electric vehicle charge points at our sites.

“As previously mentioned, Westbridge is part of the Belfield Group, and one of our prime objectives for the year ahead is to set policy and share best practice so we have a common approach across all divisions. Consumers increasingly expect to purchase responsibly made products, so it’s our job to ensure we keep exploring the possibilities for improving our energy use and our sourcing of sustainable raw materials, including packaging.

 “One of Westbridge’s core strengths was the early investment in its own accredited test laboratory. This has enabled fast, effective evaluation of new eco-materials as we’ve come upon them, and a dynamic approach to adoption. 

“A good recent example was the use of laminated FSC timber for consistent low-waste frame construction. Various versions of this material went through repeated in-house testing prior to launch, to determine the exact specification required for strength, and, as a result, Westbridge was the first to market with this innovation.”

So, although the past year has been challenging for Westbridge, its future is bright. Nichola concludes: “We should probably learn to bang our drum a little louder, and share our  good work that’s contributing to a more sustainable industry! For now, though, we look forward to showcasing our new ranges shortly.”

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