Manufacturer makes life easier for youngsters

Shaun Hanson in the machine shop department at the Jenx factory, Wardsend Road. Picture: Andrew Roe
Shaun Hanson in the machine shop department at the Jenx factory, Wardsend Road. Picture: Andrew Roe
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When paediatric physiotherapist Catherine Jenkins couldn’t find a suitable standing frame for a disabled child, she turned to husband Clive for help – and Jenx was born.

Well, not exactly, but almost – and a lot of disabled children, their parents, siblings and teachers have reason to say a heartfelt thanks, as a result.

Nowadays, Hillsborough-based Jenx has become a major designer, manufacturer and supplier of equipment that makes life easier for children with physical disabilities and enables them to do much more.

A large proportion of clients suffer from cerebral palsy, some have spinal muscular atrophy, while others have a range of issues including brittle bone disease and conditions that cause anything from moderate to severe problems if they lie down, try to sit up, stand or move.

In addition to being the leader in its field in the UK, Jenx exports to the USA and Australia, as well as Europe, sends products to the Arab world, largely as a result of contact from their UK embassies and is building up contacts with China.

The company also brings innovative equipment into the UK, thanks to links with leading US developers of buggies, powered mobility equipment and the like. Less than two years ago the company launched a major expansion programme, relocating its comprehensive manufacturing facilities to a factory nearby and recently unveiling Jiraffe, its distribution arm.

Jenx was founded on Catherine’s expertise, when it came to assessing what a child needed, and Clive’s skills as a designer and maker.

He trained as a boat builder and also worked for a shop fitting company, while also taking a break from work to get a degree in geography and politics, but always harboured a desire to go into business. “Even before I went to university I thought I would like to start a business, because of my background, making things, but I didn’t intend it to grow to be quite this size,” says Clive.

“I like the challenge of making these things and recognised there was the potential to create an ongoing business within a few months.”

Jenx started off as a cottage industry, with Clive on the road, demonstrating and selling, then returning home to design and manufacture, and Catherine sewing material to make cushioning in the evenings after a full day’s work. “I quite liked sewing and it was quite simple stuff,” she says. “Then we bought an industrial sewing machine. A domestic sewing machine does 900 stitches a minute and the industrial machine did 6,500 a minute, which was too fast so I had it geared down. I would have carried on as a physiotherapist forever, but, when our second daughter was born, I wanted to go part time and they wouldn’t let me.”

Today, Jenx is a far bigger business, employing nearly 90 people, with hi-tech machines for shaping wood, forming plastics and padding and sewing material.

The company also does some, but not all, of the metal forming involved in creating functional and attractive equipment for use in schools, special centres and at home.

It remains very much a family business, with daughters Holly and Hannah running Jiraffe and working in compliance, respectively, and son Jacob looking after the IT systems. Clive and Catherine’s other daughter, Rebekah, also has links with the sector, as she works for a company providing advice on regulations covering medical devices.