Lavender enjoys sweet smell of success putting danger to test

Stephen Lavender in front of flags at his company's HQ at Penistone.

Stephen Lavender in front of flags at his company's HQ at Penistone.

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IF you’re sitting comfortably in an aeroplane, train or car, then there’s a good chance that a small business from South Yorkshire is ensuring you travel safely.

Lavender International is also responsible for making sure that gas and nuclear power supplies are less likely to be disrupted by man-made and natural disasters.

The company provides training in non-destructive testing techniques in countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Nigeria, Mexico, Russia and India.

Clients include major aerospace companies, nuclear, oil and gas suppliers, and firms involved in service inspection and the leisure industry. Lavender International has associates in South Africa, Dubai, Canada, France and Greece.

The company has an office in Houston, Texas, and has just opened another in Perth, Australia. The trainees who come to the centre in Penistone listen to lectures and also take part in practical sessions and examinations, which lead to industry-recognised qualifications.

They are taught how to check metal objects for flaws without destroying them.

Non-destructive testing uses dyes, X-rays, magnetism and ultrasound to find faults in anything from gas pipes to aeroplane wings.

Stephen Lavender, the firm’s co-managing director said: “You wouldn’t want to be on top of a giant roller-coaster and find that someone hadn’t checked the metal in one of the bolts or discover that a rail line wasn’t fit for purpose.

“People do not appreciate the amount of testing that goes on to keep them safe on a day-to-day basis.

“The longer you keep things working, the more testing they need. The things we take for granted are ageing.”

Lavender International was started in 1976 by Mr Lavender’s father Jack and brother Dave, together with their mother Joyce. Jack was a well-known metallurgist in the steel industry in Sheffield.

The company initially carried out testing services. It then moved into training people from other companies, so they could do their own testing.

Stephen joined the firm in 1982 and, his son, Paul, is also one of the 36 employees.

Lavender International, which has a £2.5m turnover, is looking to move into the testing of composite materials, which are similar to fibre-glass.

Mr Lavender said: “We want to consolidate our new business in Houston and Perth.

“We have to keep pace with the changing demands of all these different industries and we also have to keep pace with more day-to-day tasks like IT and marketing.”

Every time a delegate from a different country visits, the company flies their flag at the training centre at Penistone station.

Mr Lavender added: “We have an amazing cupboard full of flags ready to be flown outside the centre. And the delegates really appreciate the welcome when they arrive.”

John Heckingbottom, business development manager at Enterprising Barnsley, said: “Not only have they seen a year on year growth in turnover in these difficult times, but they are literally flying the flag for Barnsley all over the world. It just shows that the town has got some fascinating – and profitable – businesses that are having an influence internationally.”

The Enterprising Barnsley programme offers business support to local businesses with growth potential.

So far, it has helped create more than 500 jobs.

Enterprising Barnsley has attracted £2.89m investment from the European Regional Development Fund as part of Europe’s support for the region’s economic development through the Yorkshire and Humber ERDF Programme.

Lavender International is keen to create links with India, although research suggests that many of its neighbours are missing out on opportunities to make money by forging ties with Indian businesses.

Firms in Yorkshire are the second worst in the country for exporting to the subcontinent, according to figures released earlier this year.

Richard Heald, chief executive of the UK India Business Council, said in February: “I urge Yorkshire and Humber businesses to leverage fast growing economies like India which weren’t hit as hard by the global financial crisis.

“This is very different to previous global recessions because there are now powerful economies like India, China and Brazil which are providing huge opportunities for local businesses here in the North East of England.”

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