North West business briefs: UK Container Maintenance; Blackpool Transport; Merseyrail; Metalube; Gaia Learning

Ben Connett, second from left

Container repair and refurbishment specialist, UK Container Maintenance, part of the IEG EMEA group, is bolstering its operations with the addition of a 1.5-acre storage facility, enhancing the firm’s capacity for the refurbishment of heavy steel containers.

The investment in the new facility will free up valuable space at UKCM’s main location for the repair and refurbishment of FELs (front-end loaders), RELs (rear-end loaders), skips, roll-on roll-off (RORO) containers, recycling banks and stillages. Significantly enhancing its factory output by almost 100%, the additional space will enable UKCM to refurbish more than 100 heavy steel units per month.

The assets are refurbished at UKCM’s 80,00sq ft factory in Winsford, Cheshire which houses wash, shot blast, spray, fabrication and repair and modification booths, plus a comprehensive container testing facility. This move will allow customers to benefit from an enhanced refurbishment turnaround time, with the highly skilled team targeting less than 14 days from receiving the container to despatching it back to the client, once fully refurbished.

To back up this infrastructure investment, UKCM has employed additional welders, continuing its commitment to supporting the local economy.

Ben Connett, Director at UKCM, said: “This latest investment represents a notable development. In addition to improving our customer service offering, we are significantly enhancing our capability and capacity in the refurbishment of heavy steel containers with the freeing up of space at our main site to allow for these larger units. We have had very positive feedback already from customers across the board who can see the immediate benefits it will bring.”

Pete Dickson, Commercial Director at IEG, said: “UKCM is the UK market leader for four-wheel metal container refurbishment and this planned expansion is necessary for us to offer our first class refurbishment services to our customers for their heavy steel containers, too. We are very pleased to announce this landmark initiative, which reflects the group’s environmental ethos. The move reaffirms IEG’s commitment to investing in the future and sustainable waste management, thereby supporting the move towards a circular economy.”


Blackpool Transport is withdrawing services 74 and 75 on August 17, 2024, to allow extra resources to be reinstated to core routes, increasing service stability.

The withdrawing of the 74 and 75 routes will see Blackpool Transport hand the tender back to Lancashire County Council to make way for improvements into core services, like Services 1A and 3, through significant investments geared towards improving frequency, efficiency, and punctuality.

After August 17, Lancashire County Council will put the routes back up for tender, enabling other local transport providers to take over and continue with the routes going forward. Meanwhile, Blackpool Transport will be starting to implement service enhancements prior to this date with a boost in promenade services coming as soon as March 30, seeing Service 1A run between St Annes and Cleveleys.

Service 3 has seen customer feedback implemented, with later running times added and a change in terminus to Victoria Square Stand D to aid ease of transfer between Bus and Tram. These enhancements will come into place from April 14.

James Clough, Blackpool Transport’s Director of Finance and Commercial, said: “We have made the tough decision to hand back the tender for Service 74 and 75 to Lancashire County Council as of August 2024. However, we are excited to be able to reinvest these resources into our core routes to continue to offer efficient, reliable transport across the Fylde Coast.”


L&Y stock at Hillside, 1935 – Paul Gorton Collection

Merseyrail’s Southport line is celebrating 120 years of electric train services. The 18-mile route was the world’s first inter-urban electric railway when it opened to passenger service at the end of March 1904.

It was the then Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway company which carried out the work, with the project starting in 1902. Along the busy route that generated commuter and leisure travel, the new electric trains replaced Victorian steam trains between Liverpool Exchange and Southport via Waterloo and Ainsdale.

The line voltage was originally 625V DC, and power to the live rails was supplied from a specially built electricity generating station at Formby. The electrical equipment for the line and the trains was supplied by the Dick Kerr & Company at Preston and the electric multiple unit trains were built by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. Those original trains were replaced by the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) Class 502’s from 1939 onwards, which, in turn, were replaced by the British Rail built Class 507’s between 1978 and 1980.

The new state-of-the-art Class 777’s are the fourth generation of electric trains to have operated along the historic route, which is now part of the well-patronised Merseyrail Northern line. Two of the original brick built large transformer buildings dating from 1904, that now house modern equipment at Southport and at Hillside, are still in-situ and have been silent witness to 120 years of progress.

Neil Grabham, Managing Director of Merseyrail, said: “This is another historic milestone that we are celebrating on the Merseyrail network this year. It illustrates the incredible railway heritage that we have in this part of the UK.”


Manchester-based lubricant company, Metalube, welcomed The Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, Mrs Diane Hawkins, to its Irlam headquarters for the presentation of The King’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2023.

This is Metalube’s third award of this type, being one of only three other businesses in the North West to have received this accolade.

The 2023 King’s Award recognises steady growth in international exports. The company has been recognised for outstanding continuous growth in overseas sales over the past five years. Managing Director, Robert Brown, said: “Today was a very proud day for the company and we were thrilled to welcome The Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester to our factory.

“I am privileged to work alongside such talented and dedicated colleagues, who have all helped to achieve these fantastic results. It is very gratifying to have our hard work and commitment recognised.”

The Metalube Group is a group of industrial lubricants brands – Metalube, Molyslip and Vapor-Tek. The company exports 95% of its production to more than 100 countries and has offices in Manchester, Dubai, Mumbai, São Paulo and Shanghai.


Kate Longworth, left, Kirstin Coughtrie, right

Online learning provider for neurodivergent children, Gaia Learning, run by Crewe mum-of-two Kate Longworth, has secured £100,000 in angel investments in just three months.

The EdTech company was set up in 2019 and delivers live, online learning for neurodivergent children aged 8-16 with ADHD and Autism, mostly used as a supplement to existing school provision.

CEO, Kate Longworth, said: “We’re so proud to see all our hard work paying off and the interest in Gaia Learning has been phenomenal since opening up to investors three months ago. On top of that, we have tripled our learners this academic year, grown our team to 13 staff members. Now, more than ever, schools need flexible, digital solutions that can scale within budget supporting each neurodivergent child’s needs.”

Kate is an experienced tech entrepreneur. In 2021 she became the CEO of Gaia Learning after connecting with the company’s founder, Kirstin Coughtrie, on LinkedIn. Kirstin, a tech obsessed geography teacher, founded the online learning platform due to the inadequacies she faced in mainstream school for her neurodivergent son who, like herself, has ADHD. In December last year they set out to fundraise £500,000 to continue Gaia Learning’s expansion – with its latest angel investor taking them to £100,000 already.

Investor, Susanna Lawson, co-founder of Circle of Trust and OneFile, said: “Gaia Learning is a fantastic solution to support all stakeholders with an increasing market need. And so I’m thrilled to be able to invest in two amazing female entrepreneurs, who have demonstrated strong traction, a recognised brand in the EdTech space and impressive entrepreneurial spirit. I’m excited to be part of their journey.”