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Donald Ward

Queen’s Awards Winner 2022 for International Trade

From local scrap metal merchant to international trade excellence

Donald Ward Limited trading as Ward began in the 1940s from humble beginnings as a small scrap metal collector. 

Based in Ilkeston in Derbyshire, the company was incorporated in December 1976 and fast forward to 2022, it’s now a fourth-generation company that processes around a million tonnes of materials annually; recycling products such as metals, plastics, glass, cardboard, wood, textiles, soils and hardcore to ensure its customers fulfil environmental regulations and commitments. 

Today, the company is led by the founder’s great grandsons Donald, Thomas and David Ward. Donald, Operations Director, said: “Over the years we have elevated ourselves from a small scrap metal merchant to one of the main industry players in the UK with key export facilities via Immingham and Redcar. It’s been a steady evolution moving from being based around the coal industry and heavy pit scrap to offering a complete waste management solution.”

A turning point for the company came in the 1980s when Ward spent £100,000 to move from traditional flame-cutting scrap metal to using hydraulic processing equipment to improve efficiency. Ward’s metal business grew by servicing local foundries and UK steelworks. It added more vehicles to the fleet and in the 1990s moved into general waste management before investing £5m in a second site in Ilkeston at the turn of the century.

Each generation of the family team have brought a new energy and dynamism to the business. Donald said: “We’ve all had different ideas on how to grow the business. We employed around 30 people when I first started but we aimed to double our metal processing capabilities and enhance our waste offering including a building waste recycling plant. 

“This was one of very few in the UK that could handle construction and demolition waste and was a step forward in technology. In tougher times like in 2008 we decided to concentrate on enhancing the commodities recycled. This included improving our wood recycling offering, aggregates recycling, hazardous waste to ensure we could offer our customers the single point of contact for all their waste management requirements.” 

Before too long Ward had outgrown its two sites and looked for more strategic locations to grow. Ward now operates across 11 sites, employing around 400 people directly and hundreds more through supply chain. 

Ward’s core business, representing 80 per cent of turnover, is the processing and recycling of metals from a variety of sources, including large scale demotion projects, other merchants, business handling end-of-life vehicles and local collections.. The growth in the international trade and relationships with end users worldwide has helped to drive the business’s growth. 

Over the three years to March 2019, overseas sales grew by 84 per cent, a growth rate of 36 per cent per annum with its largest markets being Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt and India and China which receives ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not flatten the company’s upward trajectory either. Donald said: 

“As we went into lockdown we continued working and picked up a lot of business. Many engineering companies remained open and British Steel works continued to need supply.  We processed fast and efficiently with a small team, but we were back up to full speed within three months and have shown huge growth during the last two years.”

Ward’s turnover for the year ending 2022 was around £305m. Ward is planning more sustainable growth with significant investment into people, processes, equipment, and infrastructure. Indeed sustainability and the environment have always been important to a company which takes pride in its family-orientated culture and its place in the communities in which it works.

Donald said: “We have a sustainability ‘road map’ called the Ward Way which takes us to 2030 and it’s really at the heart of our ambitions as a business. It’s not just about growth but how we can be carbon neutral and ahead of where we need to be as an industry. 

“We spend a lot of time thinking about our approach, how we can make our business sustainable from start to end and give back in terms of local jobs, helping people back into work and location place making.”

Future plans include developing its rail network to reduce road haulage, expanding its mobile waste processing service and adding small regional locations to offer a wider service for customers, as well as investing in new state-of-the-art waste technology. 

TThe Queen’s Award is supercharging Ward’s ambition. Donald said: “We’re excited about the potential opportunities that winning this top accolade creates. So many people within our business have contributed to this success. It’s a massive pat on the back for everyone here from the drivers to the board room - a team effort that reflects our growth.”

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