In the latest instalment in a series showing how Durham is Powered by People, PETER BARRON meets a woman leading a company that has shown admirable adaptability during the coronavirus crisis

WHEN the coronavirus pandemic struck, Laura Edgar’s customer base was shut down overnight. In common with millions of other small businesses, the future was alarmingly uncertain.

Her company had been built on supplying the British dental industry with the products and guidance needed to keep patients safe, but practices throughout the country were suddenly shutting down.

It might easily have been a critical blow for Barnard Castle-based Aura Infection Control. But two months after lockdown, Laura and her 14-strong team can take justifiable pride in their resilience and adaptability in supplying personal protection equipment to key workers.

Working seven days a week, mum-of-two Laura has overseen the distribution of 50,000 gowns, thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, countless bottles of hand gel, aprons, and other PPE equipment.

The region’s police forces, care homes, GP surgeries – and, recently, Middlesbrough Football Club – have all benefited from Aura’s tried and tested stock, with not a penny added to the price.

“I’m extremely proud of the way the team has responded,” says Laura. “At the start of the lockdown, they went home not knowing if they’d be brought back or furloughed. But we had a warehouse full of products, we were in a great position to help, and the staff have adapted brilliantly.”

Laura grew up in the West Yorkshire town of Brighouse – famous for brass band music – and she was immersed in the dental industry from childhood. Her mother, Jayne, was a medical microbiologist, her father, Richard, a salesman, and their skills combined to run a company supplying products to dentists.

“I spent summer holidays packing boxes, and generally saw how the business functioned, but I had no aspiration to become part of it,” she recalls.

Without having a firm idea of what she wanted to when she left school, Laura joined Barclays Bank, spending eight years gaining an understanding of the corporate world, and the importance of customer service.

But as the family business boomed, Laura could see her parents needed help, so she left the bank and joined them as an accounts administrator.

The year before that, the expanding business had relocated to Business Durham’s Stainton Grove Industrial Estate, in Barnard Castle. “They needed somewhere with more office and warehouse space, and the site was perfect,” says Laura.

Her experience in the company grew – attending exhibitions, developing sales skills, getting involved in procurements. She also embarked on a business degree, got married and had two children.

Now, 11 years after she joined, she is the company’s managing director, having added training to the portfolio, alongside the products that are helping a wide range of frontline organisations cope with the biggest public health crisis in a generation.

“We are a small, lean business, and everyone is multi-skilled – we’re all in it together,” says Laura.

Indeed, her own responsibilities have included driving to police headquarters to deliver PPE, with children William, seven, and Charlotte, four, in the car.

Her husband is a police officer, and the couple’s sense of duty to support others has spilled over into their home life. They have visited neighbours in their street in Barnard Castle, leaving cards through their doors, with their mobile telephone numbers, and a message to call if they need help.

“The community spirit we are seeing all around us is just wonderful,” she says. “It’s all about helping each other.”

However, Laura quickly realised a scatter-gun approach to distributing the PPE was unrealistic, so the strategy is to get the products where they are most needed. Two months ago, she was supplying customers nationwide, but now the focus is firmly on County Durham, including a 20 per cent discount on hand gels for businesses based in the county.

And Laura readily acknowledges the support the company has received from Durham County Council and Business Durham, before and during the pandemic.

“As soon as demand soared and we needed extra storage, they found a solution by providing an extra warehouse down the road at Stainton Grove Industrial Estate – and that’s typical. The county council is so pro-business and supportive in lots of ways. They communicate clearly, and you feel there is a support structure around you.”

Aura Infection Control has a long track record in supplying trusted products that mitigate the risk from infections. It used to be in the dental industry – and will be again, one day – but for now it is committed to helping local businesses and other organisations become ‘covid secure’.

“It’s actually more time-consuming for us to make sure the stock gets to the right places, rather than sell it everywhere, but we know it’s the right thing to do,” says Laura. “There’s a lot of noise out there, but we want the business community to hear the message that we’ve been supplying these products for a long time and we know what we’re doing.”

The response of Laura and her team is yet another example of the adaptability, flexibility and passion that County Durham is renowned for, and why the county council launched the Powered by People movement – putting people at the heart of attracting inward investment.

“They are absolutely right to do that because I see those qualities every day in my own team, and in the way people are coming together to help each other in Barnard Castle, and the rest of the county,” she says.

For someone whose business took a severe kick in the teeth at the start of the lockdown, Laura Edgar can surely allow herself a smile of satisfaction.


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