“It wouldn’t have been possible for me to be where I am now without the help of GC Business Growth Hub – it would have taken me at least another year to be here.”
Set up in 2015, Ali & Fajar Ltd was a courier business providing services to the logistic industry across the UK. Owner Muhammad Ali (pictured below; who likes to be known by his last name, Ali) was on the verge of closing the company down in early 2020 when he saw an opportunity and fresh purpose amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
With help and advice from GC Business Growth Hub’s Manufacturing team, he has progressed through the manufacture of CE approved civilian face masks to obtaining Type IIR approval for medical face masks, with a view to becoming an NHS supplier.
Ali tells us how essential support from the Hub has been in helping him to quickly pivot his business to do his bit to protect the local community.
Opportunities can come when you least expect them
I was working as a courier until earlier this year, contracted with DPD, DHL and other companies for the last six years. I’d started Ali & Fajar Ltd as a business in 2015, having previously been a freelancer and I had 21 contracts at the peak of my business, but had decided that I wanted to move in a different direction. I started decreasing my work and sold my vans.
This meant that when this pandemic started, I began to think what I could do to help the community. I’d been advised that face masks and PPE were being imported from China and Pakistan, but I decided to manufacture them in the United Kingdom instead, so I withdrew my Striking Off Application and began to turn Ali & Fajar Ltd into a company that produces face masks.
Getting expert advice is essential when starting again
My first instinct was of course to buy everything I needed to get started producing the masks, but I still had to find out the legal requirements around manufacturing PPE and masks. I didn’t know anything to begin with, so while I was waiting for all the equipment and materials to arrive, I did research into all the standards required and discovered that it wasn’t as simple a project as I had first thought.
At that point I contacted my local MP Afzal Khan, who advised that I should go through Manchester City Council instead. They directed me to GC Business Growth Hub and their Account Manager, Deirdre Hughes. We spoke for a while and she let me know that a Manufacturing Advisor called Martin Hyman would be getting in touch with me.
Martin is a legendary guy, let me tell you. He’s become essential to my business, I wouldn’t do anything without his advice. He’s a star and this whole journey for me has been possible thanks to him.
He advised me how to set up a production facility in an empty unit we have moved into in Longsight, how to manufacture face masks and to be able to run the operation as efficiently as possible, so that we can cope with the volume of production that will be required once orders really start coming in.
The Hub has been hugely important for my business
As well as getting advice and support from Martin, I’ve also been approved for a grant from the Manufacturing Growth Fund that I could use if I want to upgrade my factory. This will help with production of Type IIR masks for medical use because, in order to ensure continuing sterile production, we would need to make sure we are clean of infection.
So, we would need a full-body disinfection sterilising channel facility, where our staff can have a temperature check and get disinfected and sanitised before entering the production area. I’m not pushing ahead with that yet because I’m not at that stage so far, but they are holding it for me, so it’s good to know that it is there. That will be important for my ultimate goal, which is to get an NHS contract, as that’s what I started this business to achieve.
I’m also meeting the Digital Innovation team for assistance with my website, because we need more information going on there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else we can achieve with it. As well as that, I’m in talks with the Access to Finance team to get help with financial issues like cashflow forecasting.
It wouldn’t have been possible for me to be where I am now without the help of the Business Growth Hub – it would have taken me at least another year to be here. Their help and advice have made this journey really quick for me, and tasks that I thought would take me three or four months to complete have taken one month because of them.
We’re still in the starting phase of our work, but companies are finding us through my work, the help of Deirdre Hughes, my account Manager at the Hub, so we’re getting clients. The Hub invited me to an Oldham Council PPE event in the summer, where they talked about their plans for buying face masks from producers in the Greater Manchester area, which was really helpful.
We now have two advanced and fully automated mask production lines and have the capacity to produce over 50 million high-grade masks per year. Now that we have Type IIR industry approval from two labs for the masks to be labelled as disposable medical masks, we can produce a daily capacity of 200,000 medical masks and 50,000 Type IIR masks for children.
Recently we also received approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for our masks to be used for medical purposes, which is a big step for us. Meanwhile, people are finding out that we are manufacturing face masks here and the demand is very high. I believe in the next few months the business will start flying and I owe a lot to the Hub for the help they have given me.