By Kathryn Dick

One year following the devastating fire that almost destroyed the well-known Scottish business, Solway Recycling, the family-run business has bounced back and is enjoying one of its most productive years to date.

The pioneering recycling business almost perished overnight after a fire took hold of the premises, as well as the family home, back in May, 2020. However, this hadn’t dampened the spirits of managing director, Roy Hiddleston who, along with his wife, Sharon and two children, Annabelle and Gregor, has rebuilt the family business in just 10 months.

“The first three months of 2021 have been the busiest we’ve seen yet, with a lot people looking for alternative recycled products,” commented Roy Hiddleston, managing director of Solway Recycling.

“After the fire, we had to act quickly and set up temporary workshops and stations in order to keep the business alive, as well as save the jobs of our employees – so we are still in the in-between stages of rebuilding our business.

“The whole site was a complete disaster zone and in ‘insurance terms’ everything apart from one small office, which was situated away from the others, was classed as a complete loss. We all just put our heads down and got on with what was in front of us, as giving up was never an option,” he explained.

With everything other than the company vehicles being lost to the blaze, local planning stepped in and offered the use of agricultural buildings situated on site to allow the Solway team to continue operating, in order to ensure that their customers weren’t left disappointed.

“We lost everything including our main office, along with our PC’s and records, so everything had to be replaced in order to continue operating. We quickly converted the temporary buildings, which allowed us to continue running our business and making our recycled products.”

“We also managed to purchase some second-hand machinery, which helped us to get back up and running. At the time of the fire, we were extremely busy so this gave us all the drive to get on with things, and our first products were produced and dispatched within three weeks of the fire – an amazing achievement considering how much we lost,” Roy stated.

With the business back up and running, Roy and the team are continuing to produce a wide variety of products ranging from calf pens, to benches and ring feeders – all created from recycled farm plastic waste.

“Our original product was the calf pens, which we made and took to Agri Scot a few years ago, and secured the award for ‘Best New Product’. From there onwards, the product line has just snowballed and we are continually coming up with new ideas in terms of what we can create,” commented Roy.

One customer who has been hugely impressed with the recycled calf pens is Katrina McDowall, from Rerrick Park Farm, Kirkcudbrightshire, who has purchased over 100 of these pens in the past few years for use on the family’s dairy farm.

“The plastic calf pens are a great product. They are durable, as well as being easy to stack, store and build up. They have good options for buckets, as well as preventing draft.

“We made the switch as we wanted to do our bit for the environment, however, the fundamental reasoning is that the boards are so much easier to wash and keep sterile, which is hugely important when rearing young calves. The staff at Solway Recycling are also very accommodating and are quick to be of assistance when required,” she said.

Before any product can be made, the collected farm waste plastic has to go through a vigorous washing process before it is recycled into a clean sheet, from where Solway Recycling produce their plastic products. In order to ensure that plastic is kept as clean as possible, Roy urged that farmers make use of the Solway Bin and Liner system.

“The Bin and Liner system helps protect the plastic from dirt and debris before collection and this is the most efficient way that farmers can contribute to keeping plastic clean – so much so that we are offering a discount on our Solway Bins to anyone that get’s in touch!”

With a farm plastic levy rearing it’s head this year, relations between existing collectors and farmers have proved difficult, with some teething problems emerging within the scheme.

“Although we are not recognised as a collector under the APE (Agricultural Plastics Environment) National Collection Scheme, we hugely support the movement, which is designed to help farmers and at the lowest possible cost through the shared responsibility of producers and distributors,” explained Roy.

“However, having spoken to some of our customers, the chosen collectors seem to be profiteering from their positions at the expense of farmers, as they are charging extra on top of what they are getting paid from APE to do the job.

“All farmers are having to pay is the levy when buying new plastic but only a few are getting the benefit, as they are only collecting a small amount of plastic and the majority of farmers are not seeing a reduction in collection fees,” he added.

The Hiddleston family and the team at Solway Recycling are now looking to the future, with the rebuilding of new premises and continuing what has already been a successful recovery.

“We are starting to rebuild and we’ve taken time to plan the new premises. Obviously, we had to wait for the insurance company and authorities to allow us to start and demolish all the destroyed buildings before we could crack on,” said Roy.

“These buildings have since been completely demolished, including our family home, which was the most difficult loss to accept. As a family, we still talk about the events of the fire, and the struggles and challenges it has presented to us. The only thing we managed to save from the house was remarkably a Doddie Weir autobiography rugby book, which was on our son’s window sill – kindly saved by the fire fighters!”

Roy added: “One thing that had gotten us through all of this has been the amount of help and support we’ve had from our friends, family, neighbours and fellow business near and far, for which we are all extremely grateful for.”