Fire safety has come a long way over the past six decades. In this Q&A, Leigh Hill, Director, Built Environment Europe at Element Materials Technology and parent company of fire testing and certification specialists Warringtonfire, answers some key questions about the history of Warringtonfire and its place within the fire safety industry.

Leigh, can you give us a quick overview of Warringtonfire and how the company was established? 

Warringtonfire, like many companies, had quite humble beginnings. It was originally established as Warrington Research Centre in the 1960s, and then shortly after renamed to Warrington Fire Research Centre. Our first ever fire testing facility was underneath an old railway arch, opposite Warrington Central Station.

The company was set up by the late Brian Sayers, alongside his two business partners Selwyn London and Fred Williams.  In those very early days, one large-scale fire resistance test was performed each week rather than the fifteen or so that are conducted today at our current Holmesfield Road facility. 

Why and when did you move to your Holmesfield Road laboratory? 

Fire safety, as it should, continued to grow in importance and very quickly we found that the demand for our fire testing services meant that a new site was required to increase capacity. In the 1970s, we relocated to Holmesfield Road, which has been Warringtonfire’s headquarters for over fifty years now. 

When we moved into Holmesfield Road, we had two new large-scale furnaces installed, one vertical and one horizontal, to double our capacity and give us the ability to test a wider range of building products. These furnaces are built into the very fabric of the building, and we strip these furnaces back to the metal chassis and reline them every two to three years to perform as expected and remain efficient. 

How has the Holmesfield Road laboratory developed and grown over the years? 

When we first moved to Holmesfield Road, we had our reception building and then, beyond that, our original fire resistance laboratory. However, as the demand for fire resistance testing continued to grow, we saw the need for a new extension adjacent to our original laboratory to expand our base. 

Over the following decades, we’ve continued to grow and expand both our service offering and Holmesfield Road laboratory. We now have several buildings on the industrial estate for test preparation, small and large-scale reaction to fire testing, certification, and storage of customers’ test specimens. The expansion has enabled testing of a variety of passive fire protection products, including fire doorsets, partitions, intumescent coatings and paints for steel and concrete structures, intumescent seals, fire door components and many more. 

You’ve mentioned growth, investment into the site and expanding your services beyond fire resistance testing – how did that all come about? 

If I were to point to a moment in time, it would be 1986. This is when Warringtonfire really started to grow quite rapidly, as the ownership of the company changed hands through a management buyout by Geoff Deakin MBE, who became our managing director, and Ralph Shaw, who assumed the role of Technical Director. 

Geoff is known to many across the fire industry; he was not just our figurehead in the UK but an advocate for the industry across Europe. Geoff was the driving force behind many of the fire safety standards that we have today and participated in standards committees in the UK and Europe. Quite deservedly, he was awarded an MBE in the 1990s for his contribution towards raising fire safety standards. 

Under Geoff and Ralph, Warringtonfire began to spread globally. While we were still called Warrington Fire Research Centre, the word ‘Warrington’ was becoming synonymous with fire safety across the world. By the mid-1990s, we had opened laboratories and offices in Belgium, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In the UK, meanwhile, we acquired testing facilities in Willenhall, which we have since relocated to Wednesbury. We undertook not just testing work for passive fire protection products, but also third-party certification for products and installers, site inspections and training. 

Why do you think Warringtonfire has been so successful over these years? 

I think Warringtonfire’s success has come down to a range of factors. I’ve already mentioned the leadership from Geoff and Ralph. External industry drivers such as enhanced regulations and legislation have also been a major driving force for improved product design and fire testing. However, it is the technical expertise of our colleagues, their dedication to our company values, and their deep understanding of the role our fire safety services play that have truly shaped what our company represents. 

We currently employ over 500 people at Warringtonfire – 23 of whom have been with us for over 20 years or more, and I am one myself! I joined back in 1999 as a Technical Assistant for research and special projects. Since then, I’ve been exposed to all areas of our business. This includes conducting testing, to managing operations, through to now directing our activities in the built environment in Europe and influencing the wider industry. I reached my 25th anniversary with the company earlier this year, for which I’m incredibly grateful. 

Some of those long servers have effectively spent their entire careers with us. Three further colleagues, who also joined Warringtonfire as Technical Assistants, currently have over 100 years of fire testing experience between them. To this day, they are still passing on their years of accumulated experience while guiding the industry forward. 

You’ve spoken about the veterans of the industry. How about the next generation and bringing new fire testing experts through the ranks? 

We are always looking to foster new talent and bring it into our team, and this is the backbone of our success. We invest in young people through apprenticeships and graduate programmes which reflect the exciting career opportunities available in fire testing and certification. 

We are particularly proud of our graduate programme. Since 2022, every September, we have enrolled four talented graduates onto a specialist two-year scheme, during which they gain an all-round exposure to the world of fire testing and certification. The graduates rotate through four key areas of the business: reaction to fire testing, fire resistance testing, technical assessments, and quality. There is a guaranteed role for them at the end of the scheme, and we are currently recruiting for our 2024 intake. 

What’s next for Warringtonfire and how will it continue to grow? 

Due to a range of industry drivers, we’re continuing to see growth and demand for fire testing and certification. These drivers include harmonising certain BS and EN standards, and new regulations and legislation that is improving the standards of fire safety. For example, the Building Safety Act. There’s also continually improving governance over fire safety and construction products. Government bodies such as the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) have helped tremendously in this respect of upholding fire safety standards and driving improvement across the industry. 

As a result, we made the decision several years ago to invest in a brand new, state-of-the-art fire resistance testing laboratory here in Warrington. This will be at Birchwood Park, and the $30m investment will treble our current fire resistance testing capacity, while providing more local job opportunities for those wishing to pursue a career in fire safety. 

The new laboratory will have four large-scale furnaces and one indicative furnace up and running by January 2025, when the laboratory is to open. We have plans to add a further two large-scale furnaces, one vertical and one horizontal, by the end of 2026. 

Once the Birchwood Park facility is up and running, we’ll also be transforming our Holmesfield Road laboratory into a Centre of Excellence for reaction to fire testing, another of our core services. Our Single Burning Item and Roof Testing rigs have already received a substantial investment, enabling us to upgrade our equipment and increase our capacity in this department.  

Thanks Leigh. Finally, what are your highlights of working at Warringtonfire? 

I wouldn’t say I have a specific highlight. I’d rather say that the journey has been incredible. Warringtonfire has given me so many opportunities and I’ve grown from being a Technical Assistant to now being the Divisional Director for Testing across Europe. Of course, I’m very excited to see the new facility open in 2025, and eager to witness how our additional investments into projects across other regions and sites develop. 

I would also like to end by saying thank you to all the colleagues and clients I’ve worked with over the years. Without the trust we’ve built with our customers, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We look forward to continuing all our relationships and providing the excellent service that we’ve become known for. 

For more about Warringtonfire and its new Birchwood Park laboratory, or to book for 2025, please click here.


For further press enquiries, please contact:
Andy Williams / Ricco Leung / Alex Murray
0121 456 3004


Book your Birchwood Park Testing