When it comes to creating products that help dramatically improve the lives of children with special postural support needs, Sheffield-based Jenx Ltd is leading the way. This month the family-run company is celebrating its 40th birthday, so unLTD’s Brogan Maguire caught up with director Holly Jenkins to find out how the business started and what the future holds…
Postural support specialist Jenx Ltd, and its UK distribution division, Jiraffe, are based in Hillsborough, which is where I headed for my interview with Holly.
I knew the company was one of the leaders in its industry, but what I didn’t realise until our meeting was just how interesting its history was.
The business was founded, Holly told me, by her parents all the way back in 1982.Her mother, Catherine, was a physiotherapist who worked in special needs schools across the city, while her father, Clive, was an engineer.
When Catherine was working with a child who couldn’t stand independently, she came up with the idea of making something that would help him.
With Clive’s technical know-how, the pair worked together to create the right product, and the rest is history.
After that, other families and therapists began asking if the couple could make a product that would benefit them and their needs – and thus, Jenx was born, with the aim of enriching lives and changing perceptions about disability.
Jenx Ltd makes modular products, designed to be tailored to children’s individual needs to support them in sitting, standing, laying and during therapy. The company strives to give children with disabilities access to equipment which will give them maximum comfort, function and importantly protect their growing skeleton to help prevent pain and joint, muscle and bone problems as they get older.
Fast forward 40 years and the business is continuing to grow, with more than 150 employees, state-of-the-art machinery and huge projects on the way.
It is already an established brand across the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates and more, with an international reputation for being one of the most innovative and proactive companies in its field.
But one thing that has never changed, Holly assured me, is that the children are the most important part of everything Jenx does.
She said: “Putting the children at the heart of what we do is absolutely paramount. They are at the centre of every discussion, every change in strategy, every new product – we always make our decisions based on what will deliver the most for them.”
Each product goes through rigorous development, with a clinical team involved at every stage of the design.
It then gets tested in practice, with children and families offering their feedback to ensure every item is exactly how it should be.
Holly added: “Our team are trained to make best-interest decisions and we have created an environment where everyone is very well-educated and understanding. We put our customers first and the rest just follows. It’s vital to stay focused on what we’re doing this for, we have the opportunity to change lives and that is both a great honour and a great responsibility. ”
Another thing that is important at Jenx is helping the local community and giving something back.
Since the business was founded, they have aimed to employ as many local people as possible, working with University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University to nurture upcoming talent, as well as offering opportunities for people across a broad range of sectors from design to manufacturing, customer service and marketing.
“When the company was founded in the 1980s the country was in a recession,” Holly said. “Our area had been hit particularly hard, with thousands of job losses from the steel industry over the preceding few years leading to high local levels of skilled unemployment. We were lucky to be in a position to buck that trend and in doing so attract people with skills and experience far beyond what we would have ordinarily expected into our small company, as it was then. Many of those people stayed with us as we grew and were instrumental to our early successes.
“Some of our employees have been with us for more than 30 years and they are as much part and parcel of this business as our products and services.
“As we grow, we bring in new people with new perspectives and ideas. We are always changing, learning and adapting. It really is a great position to be in.”
Sheffield isn’t just a city to Holly and the Jenx team, it’s an identity.
Many employees live so locally they are able to walk to work and the business works with lots of local organisations and schools to be as ingrained in the community as possible.
Holly said: “Sheffield is very special – it’s a manufacturing hub and the location carries a lot of weight. I’m Sheffield born and bred and I’m so proud to be leading a business here. It means a lot to be able to support so many great people and great causes in the area.”
One of the organisations Jenx works with is Paces, a Sheffield-based specialist centre, charity and school for individuals with Cerebral Palsy and motor disorders.
Paces has been Jenx Ltd’s charity partner for the last two years and the pair work closely together on a number of projects.
The fundraising over the last two years has contributed to the £3.5m needed for Paces to move its school into a new home at Thorncliffe Hall, which will allow it to work with almost three times as many people.
“Paces is such a fantastic organisation and so aligned with what we do,” Holly told me proudly as she filled me in on the partnership. “We are both about giving children the opportunity to thrive and succeed so we feel really lucky to be able to share this journey.”
Another project the two organisations are working on together is a new accessible playground, sponsored by Jenx.
The aim is to create a space where children of any level of ability can come together and play with each other, with no restrictions or barriers.
Holly said: “This project is so exciting and vital for inclusivity. The playground will really stand out and, because there are sadly so few accessibly playgrounds out there, it will be a real UK flagship. The hope is that it will help put Sheffield on the map as the inclusive and caring city it is and encourage other places to do the same.
“We don’t want children to be seen as their condition or for the things they ‘can’t’ do. The business of childhood is play. Play is absolutely vital to children’s development, quality of life and exploration of the world. The more we can do to break down any barriers that exist, the better.”
Of course, we couldn’t make it through the interview without talking about the exciting milestone Jenx is celebrating this month and all the fun things Holly and her team have planned.
They include activities focused around three core principles – celebration, children and community. The first event is an exclusive dinner with founders Clive and Catherine to celebrate the working partnerships with valued distribution partners from around the globe.
Following this, Holly is extremely excited to be hosting an employee celebration event at the popular Peddler Warehouse in Sheffield.
The team then have a range of additional activities, working closely within the local and customer community, planned throughout the next 12 months. These include donating 40 trees to schools around the country and publishing 40 stories from customers and partnerships to provide a hub of knowledge and support for the children and families they work with.
“We have achieved so much in the last 40 years, it really is incredible and I am so happy we get to celebrate that together. My parents built a legacy that I am immensely proud to carry on. We have retained their core values of being caring and compassionate right at the heart of who we are. This is a really big deal for Jenx and we couldn’t have done it without all the wonderful people in our teams, past and present so I hope they enjoy all the festivities.”
So, what’s next for the company after all the excitement of this year?
“To put it plainly, growth!” Holly told me. “Right now, we are very busy, with so much opportunity for further progression, especially internationally. Things are only going to get bigger for us. We’re also looking to take more people on by the end of the year.
“Being an excellent employer is one of my passions. I am always thinking about how we can offer value and inspire people to be their best. That’s why we invest so much time and energy into staff engagement and training programmes.
“But no matter how much we grow, we will always stay true to our vision of helping as many children and families as possible. We are very fortunate to be in a position where we can take now that to a larger scale.
‘Forty years of helping some of the most vulnerable children is a legacy of which we are immensely proud. Tens of thousands of children and families around the world have benefitted from what we do and it is their journeys which are the real success story here. We are now bigger and stronger than ever before and looking forward to the next 40 years and changing the lives of another generation of children.”