Darren Whitehead - The Real Lock Company
FAMILY is everything to Colne Valley businessman Darren Whitehead.
The co-owner of The Real Lock Company is happiest surrounded by his nearest and dearest.
And that’s the usual state of things as the business he runs with co-owner Stephen and lifelong friend Stephen Allen is based at Darren’s Slaithwaite home.
Darren, 37, who worked as a joiner and a construction site manager before setting up his own business, built the house he lives in four years ago. He shares the property, which commands fine views of the valley, with his wife Debra and four children as well as his mother-in-law. The family also have several dogs. As Darren says: “It’s generally a very busy house!”
The property is also next door to Meadow Court care home, which is owned by his parents and uncle. When they acquired the home from Kirklees Council, Darren carried out the necessary improvements. He remains involved in the business.
Darren grew up at Hill Top, Slaithwaite, just three streets away from his present home. He attended Colne Valley High School, but admits: “I was not very academically-minded. I struggled to learn things that did not grip me.
“I left school and worked for Gill Joinery in Golcar. It was a very good apprenticeship. Working with the boss all the time, you don’t get away with a great deal!”
Darren went on to work for joinery firms at Linthwaite and New Mill before the chance came to step up to construction manager, working in London for five years. “It was a tremendous opportunity to gain more experience,” he says. “It’s an opportunity I would never have got up here.”
Darren worked for a construction company in Welwyn Garden City. He was involved in several commercial developments, including the building of big industrial units at Croydon and the provision of a holding area for Customs & Excise at Heathrow Airport.
However, Darren says: “I was always going to come back. it was big decision to go there in the first place. I was supposed to be going for a month, but it turned out to be a lot longer. I left London in 2000 and came back up here to see if I could get a job at management level.”
Back home, Darren worked on several major schemes, including the refurbishment of the visitor centre at Tunnel End, Marsden, and a £1.2m contract for a specialist old people’s unit at Harrogate.
Although his employers sent him to London for 12 months, Darren was soon back – helping with the Meadow Court refurbishment. “The home had been closed for four or five years and needed bringing up to regulations,” he says.
Darren later worked for a Halifax construction firm on schemes including the refurbishment of retail units in Deansgate, Manchester; a £3.4m extension for Leeds College of Art and Design; new minor surgery theatres at Holme Valley Memorial Hospital in Holmfirth; and the conversion into offices of part of historic Hopton Mills at Mirfield.
However, Darren foresaw the downturn looming for the construction industry and decided to go back to his roots in joinery and work for himself.
“I had just passed the entrance exam to be a part-time fireman at Slaithwaite,” he says. “With that, my role handling health and safety and maintenance at Meadow Court and my own business, I thought I would be all right. But two weeks before I was supposed to start with the fire service, the cuts came and there was a freeze on recruitment.”