Westbridge Furniture Designs

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Westbridge Furniture Designs's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Westbridge Furniture Designs is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Paul Islip, commercial managing
Industry-leading design
Westbridge Furniture Designs are the largest UK
manufacturer of own-brand sofas and chairs. The
company supplies Marks and Spencer, Next, Ikea,
DFS, Sofology, Furniture Village, John Lewis and leading UK
independent retail stores. All the furniture is designed and
manufactured out of three factories across north Wales, supported
by a fabric cutting and sewing plant in Romania. Customer
demand requires a wide choice of fabric, leather, colour, comfort
and sizes to be offered and, as a result, Westbridge offer in excess
of 120,000 options across the 7,000 pieces of furniture they
produce each week. Paul Islip, their commercial managing director,
expands further on the company’s history and goals.
Our greatest challenge has been ensuring our ability to offer this range complexity
while maintaining a four-week production lead time. We were the first company
to develop mass-produced customisation in the UK, offering Marks & Spencer, our
first customer, any fabric or leather on any upholstery shape. The ability to produce
such a complex range of options on such short lead times has evolved as a result
of our use of the latest technology when it comes to wood machining and fabric
cutting, alongside computer-aided design.
A focus on our people
Despite the use of automated machinery, our process is still incredibly labour-intensive,
and we employ over 1,200 people. A quarter of these are skilled eastern Europeans
who have integrated into both our workforce and local community. Our customers
»Commercial managing
director: Paul Islip
»Operations managing director:
Nigel Holifield
»Established in 2004
»Based across three sites in
north Wales
»Services: Production of own-
label upholstered furniture
»No. of employees: 1,200
»Turnover: £95 million
»Over 7,000 sofas and chairs
produced each week
Westbridge Furniture
Highlighting best practice
are extremely demanding and our
success relies on our people. As a result
of the skills gap, it is so important that
we both retain our people and train
new recruits.
To that end, we have worked with the
local college to introduce our apprentice
scheme, which has been a great
success. We also promote a positive
“can do” culture throughout the
business, which has been the primary
driver in growing the business from a
Greenfield start-up in 2004, to the £95
million turnover it celebratestoday.
Furniture is a design-led industry, and
we challenge ourselves to keep ahead
of the competition by employing the
largest and most experienced design
team in the UK. This enables us to
supply sofas to all areas of the market
at price points ranging from £299 to
£4,000, across a wide range of styles.
Legislation and Brexit
The greatest challenge to Westbridge,
and the UK furniture industry as a
whole, came as an immediate result of
the Brexit vote. In the last 18 months,
we have seen significant increases in
price for virtually all of our raw materials.
Legislative increases to our cost base
such as living wage and pension
contribution, while fair and appropriate,
have also had a significant impact.
Inevitability, this has led to price
inflation; retailers, however, have been
extremely resistant to increases as they
face issues of their own. Higher rent
costs combined with lower returns per
square foot and the game-changing
move to internet shopping have forced
retailers to take swift action to counter
diminishing margins.
As a result, the furniture industry has
already seen the demise of Multiyork
(40 stores) and Fabb Sofas (nine
stores) with House of Fraser and
Marks & Spencer reducing their store
portfolios significantly. Tesco have also
ceased to sell furniture. This cocktail
of product inflation, a changing high
street and ongoing Brexit negotiations
has had a marked negative effect on
customer confidence which needs to
be reversed.
Our solution
We have worked diligently to reduce
our cost base, engineer products and
materials to lower costs, and improve
production efficiencies where possible.
We still need customer confidence to
return, however, and that very much
hinges on a successful Brexit deal. The
government must provide clarity and
purpose for the key elements of these
negotiations, and the effects that
will entail for both the consumer and
businesses in the UK.
In terms of the furniture trade, there is
an increasing desire from customers to
buy British-made products which make
use of ethically and sustainably sourced
Furniture production
unit CAD frame design
We were the
first company
to offer mass-
in the UK
Raw materials price
increase in the last
Foam 50 per cent
Fibre 26 per cent
Timber 20 per cent
Fabric 10 per cent
Leather 8 per cent
materials. Considering that these
materials are often sourced offshore
and the necessity to tap into the skilled
European labour pool, a frictionless
trading deal and cross-border
movement of skilled labour are the two
key elements of the Brexit deal that the
furniture industry desperately needs.
A sustainable and responsible
The trading environment is constantly
changing, and we adapt to take full
advantage of the opportunities that
are presented.
Furniture was something of a late
bloomer when it came to internet
sales, mainly thanks to its nature as
a market where consumers typically
make a considered purchase across
many choices for a high ticket price.
An increasing number of customers,
however, are demanding faster delivery
once they have made their decision
to purchase. This is the level of service
they expect from clothing retailers
and the likes of Amazon. We have
therefore been working closely with
our core customers to offer specific
sofa collections that can be produced
quickly or held in stock, in order to
giver the customer an attractive four to
ten-day delivery service.
Looking further forward, it is anticipated
that the desire from the consumer to
have transparency of the manufacturing
route will increase. Customers want to
know how their sofa was made, who
by and the materials that have been
used. Naturally, this will progress to
a discussion of sustainability when it
comes to their purchase – consumers
will want to know that their purchase
will have a positive impact on
At present, over six million sofas are
sold each year in the UK. Most retailers
offer a collection service for old sofas
at a cost of around £40 when a new
one is delivered. Where possible, old
sofas go through “furniture reuse
networks”, extending their usable
lives, but they will eventually be
disposed of in an incinerator, landfill or
The mattress industry has already
tackled this challenge, and most
old mattresses are now collected,
broken down and the materials
recycled. Sofas, however, are a lot
more complex when it comes to both
their construction and the variety of
materials used. It is time, however,
to challenge the status quo, and
we are pioneering the development
of a recyclable sofa that can be
disassembled so that the constituent
parts can either be recycled or reused
in the manufacture of new sofas.
Manufacturers need to become more
responsible for the end-of-life disposal
of the products they produce, and we
intend to be innovators in a rapidly
growing circular economy.
A frictionless
trading deal
and cross-
movement of
skilled labour
are two key
elements of
the Brexit deal
Quick-delivery sofa


This article was sponsored by Westbridge Furniture Designs. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy