Broxap Street Furniture celebrates 75 years in business
It is 75 years since the company that is now Broxap Street Furniture was born. Managing director Robert Lee started out labouring for the skilled workers employed by his father Sydney Lee, who founded the business. He looks back on his 60 years with Broxap as we celebrate the significant milestone.
A family business
“At the age of eight, in 1961, I was encouraged by Dad to work at his original family foundry business (Hillsyde Foundry) on Saturday mornings to learn about the business and to earn pocket money,” said Robert. “Saturday ‘overtime’ working was paid at time and one half. The official start time was 7.30am, I was handed my own clocking on-off card and I was ready for action. “My task was to reclaim unused furnace coke from the smouldering slag heaps which would then be reused in the furnace's next melting operation, on the following Monday. “Essentially my first job in the family business was recycling waste. “Dad handed me a large metal bucket and explained that I would receive 3d for every reclaimed bucket of coke, additionally I would be paid a few pennies per hour for being at work. I was incentivised! “I had to be careful however to avoid treading into those still burning hot slag areas which surrounded the warm coke as there were no safety boots for an eight-year-old workman, only huge oversize safety gloves. Balance and caution was key. “Dad explained that for every bucket I reclaimed, the foundry would save one shilling because we would not need to have so many huge coke lorries driving into the foundry yard and disrupting production whilst it tipped its load. I understood that explanation. “In addition to being introduced to the reality of earning money, Dad also introduced me to the additional benefits of saving money by cleverly promising to equal, penny for penny, the amount that I had earned and saved by the time of each school holiday. I became a proficient saver. “The experiences during those months taught me some fundamentals of production and time management, personal safety, incentivisation, saving money, exhaustion, tea breaks, recycling versus buying and above all trust and integrity. “I eventually graduated to using a wheelbarrow to reclaim both coke and scrap metal from the slag heaps. The business was run very economically.”
A commitment to safe, long-life products
Set up through the investment of demob money by Royal Navy serviceman Sydney Lee, the business has gone on to employ more than 220 people at a six-acre site in Chesterton. Robert’s older brother John, chairman of Broxap, also joined the business at a young age, and today Robert’s daughter Rachel Lee and John’s daughter Stacy Brown are directors. Robert added: “The business continues to be our life's work, unfinished! “Broxap has clear focus and dogged determination to provide the highest appropriate specification products and services, on time at competitive prices. Pound for pound we provide better products which will endure a safer longer life.” As our timeline shows, while we may not have strayed far from our geographical roots, Broxap Street Furniture has massively expanded its manufacturing capabilities through innovation, acquisition and investment.
UK street furniture manufacturer
Today the business has several divisions, each dedicated to designing, building, supplying and installing their relevant products to the highest standard. We are a one-stop-shop for improving outdoor areas, delivering street furniture; shelters, canopies and walkways; cycle parking and infrastructure; timber playgrounds; sports and outdoor gym equipment across the UK. Robert added: “During 1978 I became aware there was a small but growing demand for cast iron bollards, seating, planters and litter bins in the towns and cities. “The term ‘street furniture’ was virtually unknown. I knew this was our opportunity and destiny. “Gradually transitioning from an unknown manufacturer of subcontract cast iron engineering parts to becoming branded as the UK’s market leader of street furniture feels good, yet we have so much more to achieve in satisfying our customers’ changing needs.”
Adapting for the future
This 75th year has seen substantial growth across the company, despite the pressures placed on the manufacturing industry by the Covid-19 pandemic. A multi-million improvement programme is now underway at Broxap Street Furniture’s office and production site in Chesterton. Building works have included access and security enhancements for employees and visitors, while over the next five years, the business will benefit from the introduction of additional cutting-edge machinery and industry software to complement the skills of the workforce. Robert said: “There will be progressive demands by customers and successive governments for us to design more environmentally friendly products, reduce our production costs, reduce our carbon footprint and also to have products immediately available for delivery to satisfy customer demands. “We have survived for 75 years because we are very good at what we do and we constantly adapt to market demands. “We have to instil in our workforce throughout the business that ‘every minute counts’.”