Marking 80 years of keeping the world cool

Vent-Axia, 80th Birthday, 2016 SUS-160915-145816001

Vent-Axia, 80th Birthday, 2016 SUS-160915-145816001

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What do Star Trek and Crawley have in common?

They both have Ventaxians.

Production staff in 1953

Production staff in 1953

OK, so Crawley’s Ventaxians work in Fleming Way at Vent-Axia and are not a bunch of mythological entities from the planet Ventax II, but it’s an exciting link!

The more down-to-Earth Vent-Axia celebrated its 80th year in business on September 9 by burying a time capsule, not to be opened until 2096. Make a note in your diary...

Among the guests was 91-year-old Edna Barnett, who started work for Vent-Axia in London when she was 18, moved with the company to Crawley and worked there until she retired in 1985, aged 60.

In 1958, she was told the move to Crawley new town would mean the chance of a house for her and her family.

Vent-Axia, 80th Birthday, 2016 SUS-160915-145858001

Vent-Axia, 80th Birthday, 2016 SUS-160915-145858001

Edna went to look at the first houses being built in Gossops Green that October and was the first member of staff to move down in February 1959, so that she could train the staff who moved down later.

She said: “Crawley was just wonderful, open space, the house and the garden, especially with a two-year-old.

“My son couldn’t believe it. He was running round everywhere after living in two rooms he now had a garden and space.

“It was brilliant.”

Edna Barnett cycling to work

Edna Barnett cycling to work

The move to Crawley saw Vent-Axia set up shop on the opposite corner of Fleming Way and Newtown Road rather than where it stands today.

The Manor Royal industrial estate was in its infancy and there were fields opposite.

Edna’s family grew again with the birth of her second son, James, in 1963.

Her work was so valued, the company sent her a typewriter so she could work at home.

Sales staff in 1947

Sales staff in 1947

Vent-Axia also continued to grow, moving to the opposite corner of Fleming Way and Newtown Road where it is situated today.

To mark the move the company planted a tree outside the building on the corner.

Edna had saved a piece of rationed coal as a lucky keepsake when the company was in Putney. She kept the coal in her drawer and it moved with Vent-Axia to Crawley.

When the company made its final move, she gave the coal to the managing director at the time, Eddie Taylor, who planted it with the tree.

One of the anecdotes Edna shared with other guests at the burying of the time capsule involved Winston Churchill.

During the dark days of the Second World War, Vent-Axia was responsible for creating the right air quality for clear thinking at Number 10 Downing Street.

Group Company Shot 1943

Group Company Shot 1943

Edna opened an envelope which contained a cheque from Churchill to pay for the fans.

She said: “I told the accountant, Bill Marsh, that I had a cheque from Winnie. He asked ‘who?’ and I said ‘Winston Churchill’.

“Bill told me not to pay that cheque in and to give it to the company secretary.”

The cheque was never cashed and a replica can be seen in Vent-Axia’s reception.

The company now employs 253 staff at Fleming Way, and is a multi-million pound business.

It’s innovations are present in a wide range of landmark projects from buildings in Her Majesty’s Royal Estates to the White House.

Managing director, Mark Hoskins, said: “We are delighted to be celebrating our 80th anniversary at Vent-Axia. From the very beginning, with Joe Akester’s invention of the world’s first electrically operated window fan, Vent-Axia has been a company built on innovation.

“We have continued this ethos over the years, developing, expanding and innovating to create the very best in ventilation.

“This is a tradition that we are very proud to continue today with launch of our latest best in class products, as we look forward to the next 80 years ahead.”

Mr Hoskins was joined by Crawley mayor Raj Sharma and MP Henry Smith for the burying of the time capsule, which included a Lo-Carbon Svara bathroom fan, a copy of the Crawley Observer, a team photo of Vent-Axia staff, a photo of David Cameron visiting Vent-Axia, a photo of Edna Barnett in the early days of Vent-Axia, USB stick containing current brochures, artwork and feature coverage, a pound coin, a press pack from the day.

It would be interesting to hear what the people of 2096 make of that little snap shot of life in 2016.

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