It was a family tragedy that proved a turning point in the life of businesswoman Sandra Babbings.
Sandra was just 13 years old when her father collapsed and died at their South Yorkshire home. They were in the same room when it happened.
“I was one of seven children,” she says. “I have five brothers and a sister. When my father died, the oldest of us was 15 and the youngest was 12 months old. We lived on a farm and we had to be resilient.”
Sandra, who grew up in Stocksbridge and later lived at Penistone, says the trauma of her father’s sudden death was what prompted her to go into nursing.
At the age of 17, she began her training at Barnsley nursing school. She later studied for a degree in health studies at Huddersfield Polytechnic – now the university – and worked as a nurse on a surgical ward at Nuffield Hospital in Birkby for about nine years.
Following a brief foray into teaching – after she gained her post graduate teaching certificate at Huddersfield – Sandra took up her first post in occupational health with Brook Crompton in Honley.
When the company closed that site, she transferred to the motor manufacturer’s Huddersfield works at St Thomas Road, Longroyd Bridge.
“It was very reactive in those days,” she said. “I went into the medical room and they were handing out pills and potions.
“It was all about sticking plasters and ‘take two paracetamol’ – and a bit of TLC! It was 20 years behind the times and there was a lot of scope for change.”
Sandra spent eight years with the company before the firm downsized and her position was made redundant.
But Brook Crompton became Sandra’s first client when she decided to use her expertise in occupational health by setting up her own business helping employers look after the well-being of their workers.
Today, the firm she founded, PROHMS Ltd, occupies part of the Brook Crompton site at Longroyd Bridge. “My offices were just across the road,” she says. “It was like coming home when we moved here five years ago.”
PROHMS has 21 staff, including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists and a client list of about 100 companies, mainly in the engineering and textile industries.
It also runs two screening vans which visit workplaces to carry out blood pressure tests, lung function tests and cholestrol checks as part of a regular programme to help clients’ employees stay fit and healthy.
Other services include rehabilitation work and counselling.
PROHMS has also been called in to carry out tests for alcohol or drugs and works with the Health and Safety Executive and factory inspectors as well as providing “critical incident management” in cases were there has been a fatality at work.
But Sandra says its aim is to help employers be pro-active in safeguarding their employees’ well-being – at a time when mental health is a big issue.
“If people are happy at work, they will be more productive,” she says. “Companies that take the well-being of their employees seriously will minimise mental health issues, depression and anxiety.”
Sandra says she is lucky in that her clients share the PROHMS philosophy. “We rarely lose a customer to the competition,” she says. “I enjoy going out to see the customers – it’s rare that I spend a whole day in the office.
“After 44 years in this business you’d think I would be bored with it, but I’m really passionate about what we do. I’m happy in my work and I put a lot of hours in.”
Weekends are devoted to the family – and long walks with cocker spaniel Sam.
But Sandra says it’s exciting to be part of the local business scene. “I love business strategy,” she says. “Having my own business means I can bring something to the table when customers are devising a well-being strategy for their employees.
“We never have any problems with our customers because we talk the same talk and have the same goals. I have walked away from four big companies because they just didn’t get what we do or appreciate how much we can give to them.”
She adds: “I’m a very positive person. I’m very resilient – and helping people is part of who I am.”
Sandra’s enthusiasm for enterprise is also evidenced by her involvement with networking group Yorkshire Connectors and her long-standing role on the judging panel for the annual Examiner Business Awards.
She also visits schools to encourage enterprise among young people under the “I Know I Can” initiative – a mentoring programme helping students find out about options after school or college.
PROHMS, which has an office in the Sheffield area as well as its Huddersfield HQ, is also growing – with a continual programme of investment in training and the arrival of four new staff.
PROHMS also runs a support group for health-related businesses, including dental practices and chemist shops.
The company also supports several charities, including Campbell’s Reach, set up in memory of eminent gynaecologist and consultant obstetrician James Campbell, who was based at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for many years until his death after a long battle with illness in 2007. The group provides support for carers and their families who are living with cancer to give them relief and space so they can safeguard their own health and well-being.
“James did so much for Huddersfield,” says Sandra. “We do regular events for the charity and one major fundraiser each year. This year, we’re planning a Hallowe’en party at the John Smith’s Stadium.”