Tarpaulin maker Cunningham Covers nets Queen's Award for business

David Cunningham (left), managing director of Cunningham Covers, with company chairman Gordon Cunningham
Gary McDonald Business Editor

TARPAULIN maker Cunningham Covers, which has a business footprint from Antrim to Angola to the Antarctic, has been named as a recipient of the prestigious Queen's Award for Enterprise.

Based at Maghera in south Derry, the family-owned firm, established in 1969, it is the only Northern Ireland winner of the business accolade this year.

The recognition for Cunningham Covers comes in the international trade category of the Queen's Awards, which have been running since 1965 and which are announced today to coincide with Queen Elizabeth's 91st birthday.

Cunningham Covers was founded in 1969 by its current chairman Gordon Cunningham (75) after he spotted a need to provide covers for an agricultural trailer manufacturer.

And having carved out a niche in the local farming industry, he went on to became one of the world's first manufacturers of curtain-sides, now a permanent feature of heavy goods vehicles around the world.

Today the company is involved in the successful design, manufacture and marketing of an extensive range of clever protective covers for safeguarding valuable assets in sectors such as transportation, farming, manufacturing, aviation, oil and gas production and education.

The business has won a series of export orders including the development and manufacture of protective covers for pipelines to carry natural gas from Russia to Turkey and innovative enclosures for oil drilling operations in the middle east and Africa.

It has previously secured contracts ranging from providing the covers for the beach volleyball courts at the 2012 London Olympics to the canvas tarpaulins for use during The Coldest Journey, a six-month expedition to cross the Antarctic led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

While the Queen's Award is in the international trade category and recognises its achievements in almost 20 global markets, Cunningham Covers remains strongly committed to the Northern Ireland marketplace.

Managing director David Cunningham says: “We are delighted to have won such important recognition for our sales especially to markets such as Europe, the Middle East and Africa, our success being deeply rooted in Northern Ireland.

“The indigenous market remains immensely important to us. We greatly value our customer base here and are committed to respond quickly and effectively to existing and potential customers in this market. We also see opportunities to expand our products world-wide particularly in oil and gas exploration.

“We have developed a unique enclosure which enables maintenance work such as welding to be carried out safety without an operator having to shut down during welding,” he adds.

The company, which currently employs 62 people in Maghera, has won a series of recent orders outside Northern Ireland.

These include significant contracts in Russia, where it has produced protective covers for a huge pipeline carrying natural gas to Turkey. Other recent orders have included unique protective enclosures for oil drilling operations in the Caspian Sea and Africa's Ivory Coast.

The company gained the Queen's Award for outstanding year-on-year growth in overseas sales in the three years to August 2016. Exports now represent more than 50 per cent of total sales, having grown from 29 per cent six years ago.

UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “We have some of the best entrepreneurs and innovative minds in the world who are at the heart of small start-ups, providing excellent customer service to larger businesses developing global solutions, and I'm extremely proud to see Cunningham Covers being recognised.”

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