From blast cleaning an old lifeboat to working on high-spec components used at sea is a gigantic leap. But spotting new opportunities, focusing on quality and growing steadily has seen Abbey Protective Coatings become a hugely successful company, specialising in blast cleaning, protective and powder coatings. Founded by Steve Weedon in 1984, it’s a family business that now occupies multiple units at Clopton Park and is one of the original tenants.
Serving the oil and gas industries, subsea, power generation, railways, petro-chemical, defence, agriculture, engineering and construction, Abbey’s technical expertise and engineering skills are a unique combination.
“We understand engineering and have a reputation for quality and technical ability.” says manager Liam Hawes.
Back in the 70’s, when Steve Weedon was a maintenance engineer at Heath Road Hospital, he bought a 30ft steel lifeboat (there’s a 61ft steel canal boat in the workshops now for a refurb, so nothing’s changed). The lifeboat needed blasting, the contractor Steve arranged didn’t turn up, so he hired the gear and did it himself! He decided to start a mobile blast cleaning service working on oak beams, offshore pump base plates and commercial vehicles.
Steve soon moved into a ramshackle unit with an earth floor at Clopton Park owned by David Foster Hay & Straw, which had been part of a huge mushroom farm. With asbestos gloves, a motorcycle helmet and cut bedsheets as face masks, he expanded with a paint-shop: hell, this was the 80’s. He finished construction on another building and moved into that too, winning a contract to refurb 40 police recovery vehicles. Those buildings were eventually replaced by Liberator House and the company moved into their present units.
Walking around their huge premises now, it’s a flurry of activity with blast cleaning, metal arc spraying and paint spraying alongside powder coating shops. Designed and largely built by Steve, the workshops include overhead tracks to allow large and small fabrications to pass through the processes and into heated ovens.
His stories about the history of Clopton Park are riveting, from an American bomber base to a mushroom farm and now a thriving business community. From the days when one supplier made polish for Rolls Royce cars, First Coffee Shop was a mechanic’s workshop and Roger Pullham (he’s still here!) built organs next door.
With the reputation of Abbey Protective Coatings firmly established, they won contracts for a Shell terminal in Norfolk, turbines at Sizewell and the government, among many others.
“Solving problems is at the heart of what we do,” says Steve, who works with his wife Tracey and daughter Jo, who joined in 2007 with her husband, Liam Hawes.
“We’re mechanically and engineering minded,” says Liam. “Traceability of products, testing, quality control to the highest specifications are vital when we’re working with products that are used in challenging environments.”
Alongside all that high-tech there’s the occasional piece of ‘art’ – a beautiful wrought iron set of gates for a private client, or a vintage industrial lampshade. New offices are under construction, as the family team have outgrown their existing space.
But hovering over the whole enterprise is Steve’s passion for quality and precision in everything they do, and the secret of Abbey Protective Coatings success.