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Progress: How a pillow company is helping take on coronavirus

WHEN Manchester start-up Levitex created their ‘gravity defying’ foam technology pillows and mattresses, they did so with elite athletes in mind. But the coronavirus crisis has taken the business in an unexpected direction — into the city’s hospitals.

Last year, their Kickstarter campaign saw the team more than treble their goal, bringing in more than £30,000 of investment. The idea was to invest this in the sleep equipment business, targeted at helping athletes get more rest, and improving their competitive performance as a result.

Founder and CEO, James Leinhardt (below) says: ‘We work with a number of professional sports clubs and elite athletes, including Chelsea FC Women, who won the league this season, Sale Sharks’ Faf De Klerk and Lood de Jager, both Rugby World Cup winners for South Africa, and Olympic gold medallists Ed Clancy and Will Satch. And they’ve all reported better sleep and less pain after using our pillows.’

But when coronavirus struck, the company’s medical director, Dr Ilan Lieberman, a pain management specialist, returned to the NHS frontline as part of the team in the Intensive Care Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital.

Witnessing the need to help patients sleep better first-hand, the company donated more than 200 pillows to patients at Manchester Children’s Hospital, North Manchester General, Wythenshawe Hospital, Salford Royal and Lancashire Teaching Hospital. They quickly realised that as well as assisting sportsmen and women, their high-tech pillows also helped people recovering from serious illness.

‘Covid-19 has presented new challenges for all businesses, but I’m so proud of our team to have battled through this period while doing everything we could to help those in Manchester and the wider north-west suffering with the virus,’ says James.

‘I’ve spent most of my career working with NHS trusts, care homes and local authorities across the country, and that’s why I wanted to create a product that would genuinely help people. Good sleep posture is so important, and we’ve taken a scientific approach to everything in order to create a product that helps reduce things like neck pain and backache.’

The pause has also allowed the products to undergo independent clinical trials, at University of Salford, which have tested their comfort, support and pressure relief potential. As the start-up continues to expand, further studies with the University of Central Lancashire and professional sports clubs are planned, with the aim of discovering more evidence about the products’ impact on easing pain and improving sleep posture.

Levitex has also been working with Championship side Preston North End, Britain’s Strongest Man, Adam Bishop, and British high jump star Morgan Lake. The firm, based at Manchester Science Park, hopes to get back on track after Covid put the brakes on the official launch, and its foam technology products will now be available on general sale. James adds: ‘It’s the first time our pillows and mattresses are going to be on sale to the general public, so it’s a huge milestone for us as a company.’

The cleaning firm that’s cleaning up

THANKS to a host of Instagram ‘cleanfluencers’ such as Mrs Hinch and Queen of Clean, Bolton-based cleaning and laundry brand Dr Beckmann has seen a spike in orders, and has had to extend production at its plant in order to meet the demand. Sales of household cleaning products in the UK are also up 50 per cent on this time last year.

Managing director Gareth Edwards says: ‘Our Bolton factory continues to work around the clock to meet the demand for cleaning products.’ The firm has had to adapt its entire working practice in order to survive through lockdown — office staff working from home and production staff working around the clock on socially distanced and staggered shifts, with a raft of new safety measures to ensure the production lines remain active.

Gareth (above) says: ‘Consumers have had to adapt during lockdown — they have become accustomed to buying online – and demand for our products during this time has been substantial. But we anticipate a further spike in demand now bricks and mortar shops are open once again and, for some, our products become easier to get.

‘We’re experiencing a seismic change in consumer behaviour regarding home cleaning. And, because so many employees and employers now want to continue that work-from-home arrangement, even if it is just on a part-time basis, we anticipate the trajectory of the demand will continue to be upward for some time.’

‘I’ve been blown away by the response to the designs’

THE tailor behind the sharp suits of Manchester’s most famous sports stars has turned his scissors to designing face masks in a bid to keep customers safe as well as stylish.

Scott Hufton, founder of Owen Scott Bespoke, designs and makes suits for Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Anthony Crolla, and dresses sporting heroes for weddings and events. But when he was forced to put his suit business on hold due to Covid-19, Scott spent lockdown designing a face mask, initially to give to workers in his local supermarket. He also sent prototypes to his famous friends for feedback.

Hotel Football and the Stock Exchange Hotel, owned by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, were the first to ask Scott to provide branded masks for their teams working in the hotels, used as accommodation for NHS workers. ‘I designed them originally to donate to our local supermarket, Asda, and Gary and Ryan asked me to provide them for the hotels, too, which I of course was happy to do,’ says Scott. ‘I’ve been blown away by the response to the designs and we are working day and night to keep up with the demand.’

Star quality: Scott Hutton, left, and Andrew Littlewood of Owen Scott with Wales manager Ryan Giggs, centre

The 100 per cent cotton masks are washable and re-usable, triple-layered and include a filter and internal pocket. They can also be personalised.

Stewart Davies, operations director of GG Hospitality, says: ‘Our teams have been working hard throughout the pandemic, providing vital accommodation for key workers. This in itself comes with risks, as our staff were coming into contact with those on the front line. So it was absolutely imperative we kept them safe. The masks are comfortable and they look great, but most importantly they are providing much-needed protection for our staff and customers.’