A COFFIN manufacturer has taken on 20 more staff and seen its turnover increase by £1m in the past year, following expansion.

JC Atkinson and Son, based in Washington, Wearside, has established a wholesale business alongside its primary manufacturing role.

It has also expanded its UK customer base, which includes independent funeral directors and larger, household name funeral businesses.

The firm, which employs 95 staff, now supplies about ten per cent of the coffins used across the UK every year.

Managing director Julian Atkinson said: “We’re predominantly still a manufacturer and make as much of our product as we can on site in Washington, but establishing the wholesale side has added a very useful supplementary income stream to the business and it’s an area where we see a lot of potential.”

The company, which manufactures more than 60,000 coffins a year, is planning further expansion after receiving a £150,000 investment from the Growth Fund, one of the six funds under the umbrella of the £125m Finance for Business North-East package, formerly called Jeremie.

The Growth Fund is overseen by NEL Fund Managers Ltd and Mr Atkinson added: “The relationship that we’ve had with NEL over the years has remained fruitful for all parties, and the type of investments we’ve secured have matched our funding requirements very well.

“These investments have always been attached to a specific business plan, and we know that our success depends on delivering that plan, which in turn helps to create a real energy within the business that is focused on doing just that.”

Jane Siddle, investment executive at NEL, said: “JC Atkinson and Son is an excellent example of how successive rounds of investment capital can be used over a long period to help a business achieve different objectives at different stages of its development.

“It has succeeded by redefining the industry standards for quality, service and innovation, and the management team continues to show the ambition, commitment and drive that is required to maintain commercial success over the long term.”

In 2008, the firm, which has developed a casket made of wool, was named Sunday Times Best Green Company and, in November, the firm was judged the best environmental company in the UK at awards organised by the British Chambers of Commerce.

It is also the only manufacturer in the UK to produce 99 per cent of its coffins and caskets from Forest Stewardship Council certified timber, an accreditation guaranteeing the wood is derived from sustainable resources.

Since moving into its Washington factory in 2005, the firm’s annual turnover has risen from £2.5m to £5.5m.