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Apprentices help award-winning upholstery business to grow

Needle Rock owner Dr Ali J. Wright with her apprentices. Picture by Phil Blagg Photography.

A former UK Government plant health inspector is now growing her own apprentices after turning her hobby of rescuing old furniture into an award-winning business that creates “unique and remarkable upholstery”.

Launched by Dr Ali J. Wright in Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth in 2013, Needle Rock has a diverse portfolio of traditional and modern upholstery for homes, pubs, clubs, restaurants, caravans, narrowboats and motorhomes.

Winner of the Federation of Small Businesses’ Microbusiness of the Year 2023 award, Needle Rock is accredited by the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF).

The company has now been shortlisted for the prestigious Apprenticeship Awards Cymru 2024 as a Small Employer of the Year finalist.

Highlight of the year for apprentices, employers and work-based learning providers and practitioners, the awards are organised by the Welsh Government and supported by the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW). Headline sponsor is EAL.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony to be held at ICC Wales, Newport on March 22, 2024. The awards highlight the outstanding achievements of employers, apprentices and work-based learning practitioners.

The company now has four employees who were recruited with support from the Welsh Government’s former Kickstart and current Jobs Growth Wales Plus programmes.

Ali’s ambition is to establish a Needle Rock Training Academy to fill the void for upholstery apprenticeships in Wales. She is discussing with the Welsh Government the creation of a Level 3 Apprenticeship framework for Advanced Upholstery Skills.

Needle Rock’s first two apprentices, Roselin Morgan and Jason Vale have completed a Foundation Apprenticeship in Performing Manufacturing Operations and are now enrolled on another Level 2 Apprenticeship in Business Improvement Techniques.

Last November, Jason won the Foundation Apprentice of the Year at the Skills Academy Wales Awards 2023. He and Roselin are currently mentoring the two latest recruits who are following the same learning pathway, under Myrick Training and Needle Rock.

“Investing in young workers is labour intensive but gives significant gain,” said Ali, who has joined the team on BBC One’s TV series ‘Money for Nothing’. “The impact of having apprentices within the Needle Rock business has been phenomenal. Turnover has tripled and our workshop is now open for 50 weeks a year.”

Nick Jones, Myrick Training’s engineering and courses manager, said: “The excellent relationship that we enjoy with Needle Rock is enabling us to provide advice, research and discuss possible collaboration with the company to progress, enhance and encourage more apprentices in the near future.”

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething congratulated Needle Rock and all the other finalists.

“Today’s apprentices will be tomorrow’s specialists, and Apprenticeship Awards Cymru allows us to recognise apprentices, work-based learning practitioners, and employers that have gone above and beyond,” he said.

“Their tenacity, passion, and commitment to growing their own careers, the careers of others, and the larger Welsh economy is inspiring. I wish each of the finalists the best of luck at the awards and with their future endeavours.”

Congratulating the finalists, Al Parkes, managing director at EAL, said: “As the specialist awarding organisation and skills partner for the engineering and manufacturing industry, apprenticeships in Wales are especially important to us.

Apprenticeships play an important role in supporting personal progress through career opportunities and a sense of achievement, while ensuring that employers have the right skills at the right time to keep up with evolving industry needs.

“EAL is committed to encouraging employers to take on apprentices. Marking the achievements of employers, apprentices and work-based learning practitioners at the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru is vital to this.”