Obituary: Andrew Rodwell of SCH was a garden machinery pioneer
- Credit: Archant
When he couldn’t get the accessories he needed this businessman made is own and started an empire in Suffolk.
Back in 1986, the range of lawn-care attachments that fitted Andrew Rodwell's garden tractor was sadly lacking. He could have shrugged and given up, but he wasn't one to duck a challenge. So Andrew began designing and manufacturing the accessories he wanted - and then started selling them to friends in the same predicament.
In such fashion, what with necessity being the mother of invention, SCH (Supplies) Ltd was born. Its inventive founder was its managing director.
The machinery manufacturing business began life in a former Second World War Nissen hut with nothing more than a welding set and a few other vital tools.
"He recognised that the ordinary lawnmower tractor was capable of a lot more than merely mowing grass," explains daughter Camilla.
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"The beginnings of his designs were often quite literally drawn on the back of an envelope. Through sheer hard work and determination the business flourished and expanded, and now has a catalogue of over 150 products which are exported worldwide."
Its first brochure had been a four-page leaflet - a simple black and white affair. Recent years have seen it run to 80 pages, in full colour - the company printing and giving out more than 50,000 copies.
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In 1986, just a handful of garden machinery outlets were prepared to sell the new machines. Today, the UK network of dealers tops 1,000.
"Andrew spent countless hours thinking of every possible need for the keen gardener, groundsman and gamekeeper, including equipment for sports fields, equestrian arenas and people movers," says Camilla.
"The popular product range is extensive and constantly evolving. The business now employs 25 people and remains at its original home in Holbrook (near Ipswich)."
Andrew Rodwell died at the age of 80, after a long illness bravely borne and during which he directed SCH first from a wheelchair and then his bed.
Nurtured young apprentices
Andrew was born in 1938. He moved to Holbrook with his family just after the war and lived there for most of his life. He was the sixth generation of Rodwells to live at Woodlands.
He went to school at Eton, where he was an enthusiastic sportsman and key member of the rowing eight that competed at Henley in 1956, winning The Princess Elizabeth Cup.
He finished his national service with the Royal West African Frontier Force in Ghana.
From the early days of SCH, Andrew was an advocate of local youths who might have otherwise struggled to find employment, says Camilla. He nurtured and mentored his young apprentices, some of whom have remained with the firm for more than 20 years.
"His young employees knew that they could always come to him with any problems, for he was a compassionate man.
"Andrew never retired, and even when in the depths of his illness he still kept a close eye on the business. SCH successfully continues under the new management team of Ian Holder and John Free, both of whom have worked at SCH for many years."
In fact, staff turnover generally is described by the firm as "incredibly low".
Aside from his business activities, Andrew was a long-time parish councillor and a member of the Royal British Legion. He was also a loyal supporter of local organisations, including Holbrook church and football and bowls clubs.
The company website explains that because of health concerns last December, Andrew and his family had decided to hand over the running of SCH to John and Ian.
"SCH had been Andrew's passion for over thirty years, and his hard work has put the company's future on a successful trajectory," it says.
The firm had come through two recessions and a devastating fire in 1995 that wiped out 95% of the stock and left the workforce struggling to cope. "But Andrew has always been proud to say that no customers were let down, and normal service was resumed very quickly."
Other challenges have included the influx of bulk shipments of flat-packed machinery from the Far East. However, as Andrew said: "SCH products will always appeal to those who want to take delivery of a ready-built robust item which will last for many years."
Camilla says her father "has been described as a larger than life character. He was gregarious, often hilarious and a great British eccentric", but she says he was fundamentally a family man, devoted to wife Sue and their daughters (Camilla, Miranda and Patricia), and grandfather to Alexander, Sophie and Laura.
"He had a passion for anything mechanical - from vintage tractors to classic cars and leaky boats. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."