Coronavirus: The British business bucking the trend as job losses felt across the UK

Maqq Rafique poses with the surgical gowns, which are being used by frontline NHS workers treating coronavirus patients.
Maqq Rafique poses with the surgical gowns, which are being used by frontline NHS workers treating coronavirus patients. Credit: Airguard Filters Ltd/ ITV News

At a time when thousands of jobs are being axed across the country as coronavirus continues to batter the UK economy, one manufacturing firm in the West Midlands seems to be bucking the trend.

Airguard Filters Ltd near Wolverhampton has diversified its business away from manufacturing air filters for power generators and into making PPE for the NHS.

The move into producing gowns for frontline nurses and doctors at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the firm embark on a hiring spree when many businesses are feeling the squeeze.

Business manager Maqq Rafique said: "We supplied about 40,000 gowns until the end of May and then we got approached from the University Hospital Trust in Birmingham because they're looking for local manufacturers to supply them with gowns.

"So what we're doing at the minute, we're not only safeguarding jobs, but we're also contracting out to a couple of other local companies in Wolverhampton."

The gowns are being used by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust across their hospitals in the local area. Credit: ITV News

The surgical gowns are welded using specialist equipment to cut down on stitching, and production looks set to ramp up in the coming weeks.

Soon, Airguard Filters will be producing the gowns at a purpose-built facility at the old Sunbram factory in Wolverhampton - where cars and motorcycles were first produced from the 19th century - as part of an expansion.

Mr Rafique said the existing business probably would have gone bust without diversifying into manufacturing gowns.

The gowns produced by Air Filters Ltd, which has diversified its manufacturing base. Credit: ITV News

"I don't think our filter business would have survived," Mr Rafique said.

"Hopefully, this will give us a lifeline. We're doing the surgical gowns but we want to do sterilsed gowns because there's demand within the medical community which are currently being made abroad."

"I'm really happy... We were a company of six people, now I anticipate we're going to take on another 20 people.

The Sunbeam factory has been given a new lease of life and will be the new manufacturing hub for Airguard Filters PPE gowns. Credit: ITV News

"We're sub-contracting to two other companies at the moment, they're safeguarding a minimum of 30 employees each."

He added: "By the end of October, they [UHB Trust] want us to manufacture 20,000 gowns every week."

Now, Airguard Filters is turning its attention to supplying more gowns to other NHS Trusts and is hoping politicians look to buy British going forward.

"I'm looking at other parts of the Black Country, the West Midlands and even further afield," Mr Rafique said.

"We've got the experience to develop this further. I'm very passionate about keeping business in the UK. Why does the NHS need to go abroad when they can be made on our doorstep?"