Bouquets for pioneering design firm
Belfast Briefing: Helping those with disabilities has become a priority for former florist James Leckey
The Comfee Seat, by James Leckey Design, earlier this year won two awards at the Irish Design Institute’s Awards in Dublin.
There cannot be many chief executives of award-winning design companies who – if the occasion demanded – could produce a wedding bouquet to please even the most troublesome bride.
There are also probably not too many CEOs who got their inspiration to set up a business from a good deed to raise money for a local charity. That’s why James Leckey is pretty unique, and not just in Northern Ireland.
Thirty years ago he was working as a mechanical engineer for a firm in Belfast and helping out in his family’s florist business when he decided to run a marathon to raise funds for Mencap, a charity which helps children and adults with learning disabilities.
The funds he raised were used by the charity to purchase new equipment but Leckey was not happy when he saw it. He was convinced he could “make it better”.
The charity took him up on his offer, not least because he promised to “make it for free”. It turned out, according to Leckey, to be “a defining moment” for him and subsequently for the long list of children and young adults he has helped over the last three decades.
Today James Leckey Design is a market leader in the development and design of innovative, quality postural support and therapy equipment. The company manufactures award-winning products that help children and adults with disabilities “to interact with their world and lead fulfilling, happy lives”.
These are products such as its “Comfee Seat”, a seating system for children and adults designed specifically for leisure time in the home, school or in respite care. The Comfee Seat earlier this year won two awards at the Irish Design Institute’s Awards in Dublin.
Leckey’s has grown from a one-man business into a global brand exporting to more than 140 countries. It employs 135 people.
It recently opened a £3 million, 80,000 sq ft factory in Lisburn which will unite all of the company’s research, design and production roles under one roof for the first time. Leckey believes it is an important “milestone” for a company he says is still on a journey to “help improve lives”.
“I think our new facility reflects our passion and energy for what we do. We’re not putting together widgets. What we want to do is make a difference and we cannot help but be inspired by the children and adults we meet and get to know – it can be very emotional.
“And that’s why trust is very important in this business. One of the key values of our company is trust: we believe in being honest and open. For us, sales are a reward for doing things right, for empowering kids and adults,” he says.
Leckey Design exports about 98 per cent of its product but those export sales are built on the back of an ongoing commitment to research and development.
“We reinvest a lot in research because it is fundamental to us: it is so important and, because we believe ‘we’re stronger together’, we work in partnership with lots of different people from those who use our products – to clinicians, carers, universities and our global partners.”
According to Leckey, the next stage for his company will see it evolve into a larger organisation with four key divisions, one of which will launch a new range of portable seating solutions. But regardless of its size or the level of success Leckey achieves, he says it will stay true to its values.
“Our integrity, our passion, our responsibility to the adults and children who use our products and our commitment to innovation won’t change.
“I always think back to when I started out working in the family business, when I was putting together a bouquet for a special occasion whether it was a wedding or a birthday or a celebration. The answer was always yes, now what’s the question – it’s the same today, nothing’s changed.”