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COVID sees church furniture maker diversify to manufacture industrial sanitiser stations

Barry McNickle & John Kirkpatrick from McNickle & Sons

A family business which specialises in the design and production of a range of wooden furniture for churches and other places of worship has diversified its production to manufacture industrial sanitiser stations.

Established in Carrickfergus in 1971, McNickle & Sons’ main business is the bespoke manufacture of church furniture and ecclesiastical fitouts. In recent years the firm has also started to produce furniture for the hospitality industry, private clients and the residential market.

However, as with many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on the company.

John Kirkpatrick and Barry McNickle from McNickle & Sons

“Our pipeline of work came to a halt overnight,” said production director Barry McNickle. “We had contracts with local schools and churches, as well as plans to supply a couple of synagogues in London.

Then, just like many others, we were forced to close. Having to make that decision was devastating, not just for me, but for our entire workforce.

“Our team is much more than that – they’re like a family. There were naturally a lot of ‘what ifs’ in our minds at that time, but we really wanted to do right by our people,” he said.

After a chance conversation with a friend who owned a local convenience store, Barry, alongside his sales and design manager John Kirkpatrick, had an idea.

“They were having some issues with the makeshift dispensers they were using. In response, we designed and produced a sanitiser station that wouldn’t look out of place no matter what the surrounding was, as well as being both hand and foot operated,” he explained.

John continues: “By being dual operated, the system allows those with restricted movement use their hands or feet, as well as giving customers the choice of which one they want to use.

“The station is also able to hold enough to ensure that it doesn’t need to be checked regularly like smaller dispensers, our stations are adaptable for both liquid and gel. We also recognised that as government guidelines changed, the key messaging on the stations should be interchangeable so it could be adapted as time went on.”

As a result of the firm’s design, Henderson Group has already purchased nearly 100 units of the stations, with other companies “lining up at the door” to order their own.

“The response has been phenomenal,” John continued.

“We see this as a long-term cost saving investment for anyone trying to get their business back open in an economic manner and also within government guidelines.”

After initially sourcing some of the materials required from online retailers due to lockdown restrictions, the McNickle & Sons team was directed to the BuySupplyNI portal, the innovative platform led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council that streamlines procurement of goods and services from local suppliers by local buyers.

“It was important that we helped to support our local economy and help keep jobs and businesses alive, so we wanted to source as many components as locally as possible,” said Barry.

“Using BuySupplyNI, we were able to sources parts from companies across Northern Ireland: pipework from Mallusk; vinyl from Lisburn; pumps from Bangor. Having that resource available has truly helped us help others,” he said.

John Kirkpatrick and Barry McNickle from McNickle & Sons

McNickle & Sons’ sanitiser station is now available for companies to source on BuySupplyNI’s COVID-19 Supplies section.

Graham Whitehurst, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, which developed the portal concept, said:

“This is another example of a local company who has diversified its operations in recent weeks to step up and play an important role in the fight against COVID-19 and has seen incredible results.

"It is fantastic to see BuySupplyNI continue to play such an important role in the success of indigenous firms in Mid and East Antrim like McNickle & Sons, and indeed across wider Northern Ireland.”