Keeping it in the family

PUBLISHED: 14:27 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013

Ian and Rose by the Aga

Ian and Rose by the Aga

Hilary Engel went to meet Rose Norman to find out how her company, Aga Twyford Ltd, can give your cooker a new lease of life.

Hilary Engel went to meet Rose Norman to find out how her company, Aga Twyford Ltd, can give your cooker a new lease of life.

"A lot of people feel that their Aga is part of the family," says Rose Norman. "So if they move house, or if they re-design their kitchen, they still want to keep it." And in these uncertain times, repairing, recycling and restoring may appeal more than buying new.

These are some of the reasons why Rose's business is thriving. She and her husband, Ian, and son, James, run Aga Twyford in Hereford, which is the only Aga renovating company authorised by Aga.

Rose and Ian came to Agas via fireplaces. They started out 21 years ago with an architectural antiques business in Cheltenham. Rose's experience before that had been in catering - running a prestigious restaurant in Devon. Ian had been in the navy, and then worked as a marine surveyor.

"Our shop specialised in antique fireplaces: but someone brought an old Aga in one day, and it sold at once. I've always loved Agas, and always cooked on one myself. So we realised there was a market for old ones, and we began to look out for them."

In the early 90s Rose and Ian took over a reclamation yard near Gloucester; and then in 1994 they moved to Twyford Farm at Callow, just south of Hereford. "We met someone who specialised in renovating Agas," says Rose. "So we agreed to work together with him. We took half a dozen orders, and then he disappeared with the deposits. So Ian simply had to learn how to do it himself. It was desperate at the time, but we coped."

"At first it was a bit of a cottage industry, but it grew and grew." They took on a factory unit at Moreton-on-Lugg, and then eight years ago they moved to larger premises at Three Elms Trading Estate. "When I first saw this place I thought, we'll never fill all this space. But now we've had to take on another unit two doors away. And it's just full of old Agas, waiting to be restored."

The company, now named Aga Twyford Ltd, employs 18 people. Rose's son James is the technical director, running the factory side of the business, with 10 engineers. (But he is also a "brilliant cook", according to Rose, and indeed produced a delicious chick pea and chorizo soup on an Aga in the showroom while I was visiting.)

Ian runs the commercial side of the company. Customers come from all over the country, and abroad. Aga Twyford will send a team to dismantle and collect an old Aga to bring it back to the factory. It is then taken apart, and the outer casing is sent to Aga headquarters in Shropshire to be re-enamelled. The main castings inside are sand blasted, and other old parts including door linings, seals and burners are replaced with new ones. The cooker is then returned to the customer's home and re-fitted.

The cookers that Aga Twyford are restoring now may be as much as 60 years old or as new as three to four years old. The Traditional model was first introduced in 1941, and the De Luxe in 1956; and the designs have changed relatively little since then.

It is possible to re-engineer solid fuel cookers to run on oil or gas, and vice versa.

Rose says, "In the early days people would get Joe Bloggs the plumber to convert

their old Aga to oil. They would simply put an oil-fired burner in the firebox, and do

nothing more, which wasn't adequate, and gave the process a bad name. Rose points

out that Aga Twyford make significant engineering changes, in order to achieve

proper conduction and correct oven temperatures.

Recently there has been something of a trend for converting back to solid fuel. Rose says that in the past, they would get two or three requests a year for this, but since last year it has increased to about five a month.

Twyford became officially linked to Aga in 2007, and now also sells new Agas, as well as Masterchef, Rangemasters, Aga woodburners and cookware. Rose and Ian realised at this point that they needed to develop and expand their showroom and online shop, and also organise cookery demonstrations.

Rose took a year off to study for a Masters degree in fine art, and has now brought her new skills back into the business. She has helped to redesign their sales brochure, and is working on a new range of cleaning products and textiles to include chef's pads, aprons, and oven gloves, etc, which is to be launched in the next few months. She hopes soon to start producing their own branded range of enamel ware and cooking accessories.

Looking for a new way of describing the joys of an Aga, Rose invented a cartoon character called Betty Twyford, whose family's lives are greatly enhanced by its ability to cook quickly or slowly, dry and air washing, heat water, all with very little effort from her. Rose is now working on a book of Aga recipes which will be written in the name of Betty, and one of them, for lamb shanks with anchovies, is included here. "They'll be healthy, family meals, low in fat and low in calories; and I hope it will be amusing, too." She hopes to publish it later this year.

All of these new developments call for investment: so how do the Normans feel about expanding while the world is entering a recession? "We're just hoping for the best," says Rose. "We emphasize the fact that we are selling a product that is not only 100% British, but is made from 70% recycled materials. We'll take it slowly, and see how it goes. House sales may be slow at the moment, but home improvement and the creation of extensions to current properties is increasing."

Rose and Ian now live in a converted barn near Pembridge, which Rose loves. Although they have no family connections in Herefordshire, she had always hoped to live here. "I always used to feel so elated when I came here: it's the most beautiful of all counties, so unspoilt. From a business point of view, the road systems are terrible: but it's a small price to pay for living here."

Aga Twyford, 31/32 Three Elms Trading Estate, Bakers Lane, Hereford HR4 9PU

01432 355 924

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