Rescue company sees success by looking beyond mines

A rescue and safety training company with its roots in the mining industry set itself on course to almost double turnover with the opening of a new base in Yorkshire.

MRS Training and Rescue, which grew out of the old Mines Rescue Service, aims to grow annual turnover from £11m to £20m by diversifying its services. The strategy has seen it expand whilst the coal mining industry it was originally set up to serve has disappeared.

Its new Yorkshire base, at Knottingley, was officially opened by Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper.

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It replaces its former home at Kellingley Colliery, near Selby, Britain’s last pit, which shut in December, bringing 300 years of UK deep mining to an end.

The new base will play a key role in the company’s expansion plans. It dropped its historic Mines Rescue Service name in March, rebranding as MRS, and now aims to hit £20m turnover by 2020.

It has a workforce of 140, 70 per cent of whom are ex-miners. Its headquarters are in Mansfield.

It intends to grow its work with a broad range of industries including water, utilities, marine, aerospace, wind power, nuclear and rail after adapting the skills needed in underground rescue to other environments.

Those skills are at the heart of its new Yorkshire base, which features a self-contained chamber to train people how to work safely in a confined space, built into the fabric of the building.

It has 70m of crawl space and internal cameras for recording all training. The centre can handle up to 250 trainees each week.

MRS Yorkshire operations manager Billy Gundry said: “Our new centre has five training rooms where we will offer a full range of health and safety training courses including first aid, safe entry into confined spaces and fire fighting.

“It’s a huge step forward, a commitment that the company has shown to us to move forward.”

He added that the move away from Kellingley was inevitable. “It had got to the point where it was affecting the business. We were on a demolition site because the colliery had closed and people thought there was nobody working there apart from the people running it down.

“From the outside looking in, it looked closed, there were barriers up, so we had to move.”

MRS is now increasing its marketing and pursuing new opportunities in a broad range of industries to grow the business.

Diversification has already enabled the company not only to survive the closure of Britain’s pits, but to expand. Mr Gundry said: “About 20 years ago, it became quite clear to the company that if we didn’t diversify, we would probably end up the same way as the mines have gone

“So we started with the basic things that we were good at, like firefighting and first aid training, then we went into the confined space training.”

The company capitalised on the introduction in 1997 of new legislation covering working in confined spaces.

“That lent itself very, very well to us,” said Mr Gundry. “We were used to working in hazardous spaces, so the confined spaces legislation was a great avenue for us.” Adapting the skills used in mines rescue remains key to growing turnover, he added.

“It’s about thinking about the skills that we’ve got and then thinking what kind of industry could benefit from that skill.

“We are targeting the rail industry, and I think there is a lot of potential for us to grow there, because our offer would lend itself very well to it, because it’s an industry with tunnels, culverts and air shafts.”

Close links to the county

MRS has been closely linked with Yorkshire coal mining throughout its history.

The Mines Rescue Service was originally established at Tankersley, near Barnsley, at the turn of the 20th century, and saved many lives in the aftermath of underground accidents.

When the industry was nationalised in 1947, it became part of the National Coal Board, later the British Coal Corporation, until coal was privatised in 1996.

Mines Rescue Service was then set up as a limited company with no shares.

MRS retains its links with mining, which still accounts for seven per cent of its revenue, proving rescue and safety services to the gypsum and minerals industries.

It also works closely with the Coal Authority, the body responsible for monitoring the safety of the tens of thousands of old mineworkings throughout the country. Mr Gundry said: “We have a proactive plan to inspect known mineshafts. There is a staggering amount known to the Coal Authority in the UK and MRS is involved in identifying them and checking that they are safe.”