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Edna Still Thinks Vent-Axia is Fan-tastic!

Edna BarnettEdna Barnett, 88, was delighted to return to her former employer Vent-Axia to see how the company had grown 70 years after she started work there. Following a tour of the firm in Fleming Way, Crawley, West Sussex, Edna was presented flowers by chief executive Ronnie George to celebrate her long service at the company.

Edan joined Vent-Axia in 1943 during the war at the age of just 18 when the company was located in Collinette Road, Putney, London. Only seven years earlier in 1936 Joe Akester, Vent-Axia’s founder, had invented the world’s first electrically-operated window fan and the market leading fan manufacturer was born.

The Vent-Axia that Edna joined was very different in 1943 to today. At the time the manufacturing took place in a garage and Edna worked across the road in Upper Richmond Road, in the accounts department in an office which was actually a flat.

Since Edna did the accounts she would pay in the cheques she received. Edna remembers receiving a very memorable cheque. “I told the accountant Bill Marsh that I had a cheque from Winnie. He asked, “Who?” and I said “Winston Churchill”. Bill told me not to pay that cheque in and to give it to the company secretary. The cheque was never paid in.” A replica of the cheque can be seen in Vent-Axia’s reception.

Meanwhile, Edna’s job working in accounts included a “bit of everything” including the letters, wages and company accounts. But Edna’s first job of the morning was to clean the grate and light the fire!

As the company grew Vent-Axia moved premises, first to Putney Bridge Road, London, in the early 50s and then to Crawley, West Sussex in 1958. Edna moved with the company each time settling her young family in the new town of Crawley.
 “Crawley was just wonderful, open space, the house and the garden, especially with a two-year-old. My son couldn’t believe it. He was running round everywhere after living in two rooms he now had a garden and space. It was brilliant,” said Edna.

When Vent-Axia moved down to Crawley it was originally situated on the opposite corner of Fleming Way and Newtown Road than it stands today. The Manor Royal industrial estate was in its infancy and Vent-Axia had fields opposite. The company’s final move to its current location was marked by planting a tree outside the building on the corner.

Edna had saved a piece of rationed coal as a lucky keepsake for the company when Vent-Axia had moved from Colinette Road to Putney Bridge Road. She kept the coal in her drawer and it moved with Vent-Axia to Crawley. When the company made its last move Edna gave the coal to the managing director at the time, Eddie Taylor, who planted it with the tree.

Edna finally retired in 1985 aged 60 after having worked for Vent-Axia for 42 years, she still lives in the same house in Crawley. Edna saw many changes to Vent-Axia over the years but this did not prepare her for her recent tour of the firm.

 “I can’t believe it, how much Vent-Axia has grown. We would have never thought it would be like this. It’s amazing. I only wish Joe Akester was here to see it,” said Edna.

Edna was especially surprised by the changes to the accounts department: “It just seems impossible. The offices are so new and modern with computers everywhere. When I worked in accounts I didn’t even have a calculator, I did it all in my head.”

Edna loved working at Vent-Axia, so much so that on her recent visit to the company she asked the Finance Director for a job!


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