Flood-hit printing premises reborn as thriving business centre
Duffield Printers in Kirkstall was put out of business by the floods that hit Leeds on Boxing Day 2015. But, with the support of Leeds City Council and grant funding from Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), owner Martyn Duffield has invested over £1 million in redeveloping Airedale House as a thriving business centre.
Martyn Duffield was on his way to Australia when Storm Eva hit Leeds on the evening of Boxing Day, 2015. Television monitors in Abu Dhabi airport were showing news footage of the devastation caused after the River Aire had burst its banks, flooding Kirkstall Road where his print business had been based for over 50 years.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and had to do a double-take to make sure it was for real,” he remembers. Martyn arrived in Australia and was there for just a day before taking the first available flight back to the UK.
“It was mayhem in the first few weeks and I just acted on instinct. My first priority was the people who worked for me. Duffield’s Printers was more than a business – it was a community – but it was clear the business couldn’t be salvaged.”
Using personal recommendations and industry contacts, within a fortnight Martyn and his finance director Janet Broadbent were able to place all but one of the 35 people who worked for him into new jobs.
Fast forward 18 months and Airedale House Business Centre is once again a hive of industry and already at 80% occupancy. Comprising two buildings on Kirkstall Road, Leeds – Airedale House and adjacent Airebank House, which was also flooded – it offers flexible, serviced office space for growing businesses.
Featuring 40 serviced office units with room for up to 220 work stations, in addition to meeting rooms and ‘virtual’ office space, the centre is home to a wide range of businesses including IT services and equipment providers, lawyers, accountants, recruitment, advertising and PR agencies.
By the time work completes this autumn, Martyn will have invested over £1 million in reinstating and redeveloping the building, including grant funding worth £100,000 from the LEP flood recovery programme, in addition to business rate relief and grants from Leeds City Council to help with initialclean-up costs and flood prevention measures.
To date, a total of 284 businesses in Leeds have benefited from over £3.57 million worth of support from the Council and the LEP to help recover from the floods. Across the city region, 65 businesses have received support worth £3.18 million from the LEP flood recovery fund.
The 20,000 sq ft building Airedale House has been tanked inside and out, the ground floor raised, pumps and flood defence barriers installed and non-return valves fitted into the drains, to protect the building against any flooding in future.
“The water was knee-high in the print shop but, if it comes again, we’re ready and defended against it. Any water that gets in will be a trickle and the defences we’ve installed will get rid of it before it causes any serious damage.”
Duffield Printers, which occupied the ground floor of Airedale House when the floods hit, was established in the 1890s and had been trading from its Kirkstall Road premises since 1960. Martyn bought out all the other family members in 1989 and ran it as a successful and profitable business right up until the moment the floods hit.
“Prior to buying out the company, it was owned by many shareholders so the real ‘family’ were the people who worked for me and it was important to do the right thing by them.”
Airedale House Business Centre continues to be a family affair. Working with his two sons, Adam and Simon, Martyn has invested money from his own pension fund and cash from the insurance settlement to create an environment for new generations of businesses to thrive.
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working together as father and sons doing much of the labouring ourselves, while subcontracting to specialist businesses within the local area to carry out the air conditioning, electrical installation and any other work we couldn’t do ourselves,” says Martyn.
With over 100 parking spaces, the building is within easy reach of Leeds city centre, comes equipped with gigabit fibre broadband connectivity and is fully accessible for anyone with disability. “We’ve fitted out the building to the highest standard and offer suites on a flexible, rolling licence agreement,” Adam Duffield explained.
His brother Simon added: “When a business plans to expand quickly and recruit staff, we’ll allow them to take a six-person office, for example, but begin by only paying for three workstations. We don’t tie them into long leases because we are confident they will stay or, if they move out, that we can let the premises very quickly. Essentially it’s a hotel for business.”
Martyn said: “Support from the Council and the LEP has made a massive difference. We went through nine months of uncertainty and financially it was very tight. So, it was a real morale boost to receive the grant funding. It has given us the confidence to carry on – investing our own time, energy and money in creating something that will last and create employment for generations to come.”
Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Lucinda Yeadon said: “Having witnessed at first hand the devastation caused by the floods, it’s fantastic to see the recovery and transformation that has taken place over such a relatively short space of time.
“It’s testimony to the resilience of the community and the commitment of people like Martyn and his sons, that Airedale House is once again a thriving centre for growing businesses, providing high quality workspace, jobs and opportunities for people in the local area.”
Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “I am delighted to see the successful redevelopment of Airedale House following the destruction caused by the Boxing Day floods. It’s a real success story for Leeds City Region and a superb example of how the support and funding from the LEP and our colleagues at Leeds City Council has led to the premises reopening and the development of long term flood resilience plans.”
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