This month, we have said farewell to our Health and Safety and Training manager Derrick Harris, who is retiring after an incredible 34 years working at ISF.

Here’s an insight into Derrick’s ISF journey.

Where it began

Derrick first joined ISF in 1989, when we were working out of our original unit in the Raylor Centre, with a much smaller team of around ten employees. What started out as just a weekend’s work to help out whilst working self-employed in Leeds, turned into another week, which turned into a full-time job.

A sheet metal worker by trade, as the business changed and grew over the following years, so did Derrick’s role within it. It wasn’t long before Derrick moved into the management side of the business, and supported our managing director, Iain with developing the business and attracting new customers as things began to expand.

A true problem-solver

However, in the early nineties the foot and mouth outbreak threw a real curveball to ISF. Providing engineering solutions for the animal feed processing sector had always been the company’s primary focus, but the outbreak meant less animals and consequently less animal feed requirements with many facilities substantially reducing their production to reduce their costs. As a result, many projects were put on hold and orders dropped off overnight.

To see the company through this unforeseen and difficult period, it was Derrick who suggested that ISF branched out into the construction sector designing and supplying steelwork to builders and developers.

This expansion turned out to be exactly what ISF needed, and during the property boom of the mid-nineties, ISF was employing around 40 people. With contracts underway with the likes of Persimmon Homes and Barratts, ISF became approximately 50/50 construction and process engineering. With Derrick managing the construction projects, ISF were responsible for the design, production and installation of balustrades, staircases, balconies, and railings in new build apartments across York, Harrogate and Leeds.

This included the luxury Emperor’s Wharf development alongside the River Ouse in York:

 ‘At that time, you could sit by the river in York having a drink, look over to the other side, and every single balcony you could see I’d think – we made that!’.

Driving success for our ‘big’ customers

It was during this time that Derrick also managed a contract with British Sugar in York, to increase their throughput so that they could handle more sugar beet. A huge job for the business – and in fact to this day is still the largest contract ISF has ever undertaken. It was a high-pressure job, made all the more difficult in a time before CAD drawings or mobile phones.

Derrick would visit our customer’s sites, draw a sketch by hand and then fax it back to the office. Throughout the project, ISF designed, manufactured, and installed new hoppers, whilst also upgrading existing steelwork, and installing outsourced beet slicers. By the end, pretty much the whole factory had been upgraded – and Derrick managed the project throughout. It was a huge success.

As a result of this success ISF went on to take contracts with Balfour Beatty, working on projects such as the £60 million redevelopment of the former sixth form site at York College between 2005 and 2007, where ISF again designed, manufactured, and installed steelwork, staircases, and the atrium balustrades. Following excellent feedback on a job well done, another project came in. This time for the £150 million rebuild of Pinderfields hospital in Wakefield.

Another change of direction

Derrick was still managing the construction sales for the business in 2008 when the recession hit, and property prices plummeted. Again, the business had to change direction as construction sales dried up. ISF moved back into their specialist field of animal feed processing. At this time, Derrick’s position changed again as he began to manage the Health and Safety and Quality Management parts of the business.

Having completed extensive health and safety training for his work with Balfour Beatty, Derrick had already been responsible for overseeing these elements, so it was a natural move for Derrick and the business. A man of many talents, Derrick continued to manage sales for small works, and soon also became responsible for organising and managing staff training.

Unfortunately, the recession meant redundancies had to be made, and the business downsized as a result. But after deciding to move away from construction and focussing on what they knew inside out – process engineering – things began to pick up once more and the business was thriving again.

An inspiration for us all

Derrick’s loyalty throughout the years was shown in the way he continued to work throughout his episodes of ill health. In 1999, Derrick underwent a quadruple heart bypass. And in 2012, was diagnosed with throat cancer. Both times, after treatment and rest, Derrick returned to work and picked up where he left off. His perseverance, dedication and commitment to the role is inspirational, and we’re so proud to have had him as part of the team.

‘Why did I stay all those years? Because I loved the job. It was a different challenge every day. You can design absolutely anything. But then working out the practicalities, the costs, assessing the risks, how the installation would work. I love making things. But seeing it through and seeing the finished job? The satisfaction in that was brilliant. It’s a brilliant job. I never wanted to turn a job away. I knew we’d find a way to do it. And brilliant people to work with. A mutual loyalty and respect has been built up over all those years’.

After the COVID pandemic, as many people did, Derrick decided it was time to start slowing down a little, and reduced to four days a week, before beginning to hand over his duties ready for retirement this year.

What’s next for Derrick?

‘Oh, I have lots of plans for my retirement! I must, I can’t keep still! I’m looking forward to having more time for fishing. I find plenty of jobs to do around the house. And of course, my gardening – I need to keep supplying ISF with chillies don’t I (yellow ones this year)! And I’m planning to buy a motorhome. I can’t wait for that’.

For the moment, Derrick has gone back to his roots – tinkering and welding in his shed making fencing for around his pond. Well, you can take the man out of ISF….

Thank you for everything, Derrick. Enjoy your retirement. You deserve it.