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    The Big Interview With Margaret Wilson – LEP 2005

    Peter Richardson meets a pensioner who also runs a business in a field that is not for the faint-hearted…

    Like many a Lancastrian of pensionable age, Margaret Wilson has a talent for reminiscing about the clogs and cobblestones of her childhood.

    Take her upbringing in the shadow of Preston’s Horrockses Mill, for example: “We used to pretend that the mill lodge was the sea and the chimney was Blackpool Tower. Then my mum would get a bucket of sand from the builders’ merchant round the corner and tip it over the pavement. That was our beach…”

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking 66-year-old Margaret is stuck in the past, however.

    For this particular Preston pensioner sits at the helm of a private security company which employs 200 and turns over 4.5 million a year.

    Sector Security Services Ltd, just celebrating its 10th anniversary, has offices in Leeds and Manchester as well as in the city of Margaret’s birth.

    And she doesn’t plan to vacate the managing director’s chair until she’s 70, by which time she wants her empire to span all points East and West between Scotland and the Midlands.

    By then, of course, the grandmother who lives in Walton-le-Dale is likely to have seen her other business grow as well. The Yellow Front Door Company currently has a portfolio of nine properties recognised by the distinguishing feature inherent in its name.

    None of it might have happened if an erstwhile local employer in the mail order business hadn’t upset her: “As a buyer I’d just saved him a lot of money and his response was to make me redundant,” she reveals.

    “There was no way I was going to have that sort of loyalty thrown back in my face again, so I resolved to work for myself.”

    Sector Security has several strings to its bow. The firm provides guards for all kinds of premises – shops, warehouses and reception areas, for instance – and numbers the Inland Revenue, the Crown Prosecution Service and local authorities among its customers.

    There’s a mobile patrol section which provides security for industrial estates, and an opening-and-closing service whereby staff will make sure multi-managed office buildings are safely locked up and opened again in the morning.

    And they offer an alarm response keyholding service which means clients are never called out of bed when bells ring at the dead of night: “We sort it out,” says Margaret.

    Rows of closed circuit TV screens dominate the 24-hour control room at headquarters on Blackpool Road: “Employers don’t want someone just sitting there watching screens all day, so they send the signals through to us. It’s blank-screen technology, which means there’s nothing to watch until an intruder triggers a sensor and the screen bursts into life.

    “We can move the cameras from here and we can challenge someone audibly from here. The premises we’re watching could be in Australia or New Zealand and it would still work as well as if it was somewhere just down the road. Not that we have customers over there, but we certainly have them in the south of England.”

    A product of Fishwick Secondary Modern School in the years it was ruled with a rod of iron by one Dr Pickford, the teenage Margaret Wilson trained as an office operator of the Comptometer, an early form of calculator. Later, the mail order company job having come to its unfortunate end, she went into energy conservation, then damp-proofing. The company chairman, looking around for a secondary interest, branched into burglar alarm installation. Margaret ran that side of the business for him, then bought him out.

    Next she opened a shop selling security alarms and offering locksmith’s services. The latter became the province of husband Stan, who had just retired as a Lancashire Police traffic officer based at Chorley: “We got a call from an elderly woman who needed a lock replacing. Stan was reluctant at first but she made him a cup of tea and a huge bacon sandwich and he was hooked.

    “Then we started a ‘boarding-up’ service, attending to windows which had been broken by burglars. Stan would cut the timber to size and I’d knock the nails in. Teamwork, we called it, but it must have looked strange to see a woman out, boarding up windows in the middle of the night.”

    The key-holding service followed simply because a customer asked if they wouldn’t mind holding on to a set after they’d fitted an alarm system: “As always the answer was ‘yes'”, says Margaret. “We never turned away custom of any kind. The keys were accepted, a small charge was made and we looked into ways of keeping them secure.”

    From such humble beginnings was Sector Security Services born. Soon clients were asking whether they would provide patrols, open and close multi-managed buildings and provide security officers in emergencies. They could, and did.

    It’s not all been plain sailing. Margaret has coped with the loss of Stan to Motor Neurone’s Disease: “His mother had it so we knew what was coming. When he died we took his ashes up to Sandwood Bay off the north west coast of Scotland, scattered them and drank a toast to his memory.”

    But her loss, five years ago, enabled her to throw all her energy into growing the business. It helped considerably that their son Dirk, after 19 years in the armed forces during which he gained both the rank of Major and a Civil Engineering degree, joined the company as commercial director in December 2003 and was responsible for last year’s office opening in Leeds.

    He’ll take over eventually but for now Margaret is perfectly happy overseeing an empire in which she wants “measured” growth. She’s in a competitive field containing the likes of Group 4, Reliance and Securicor but has no wish to be as big. Her pet analogy involves a plate of spaghetti: “Once the strands start going over the sides, it’s difficult to control them.”

    And so it is that Sector Security Services look after their own staff with the same care they give to clients. Dozens of security industry certificates line her office walls, testimony to the standards she insists on. But the real proof lies in personal contact: “There’s always someone on the end of the phone – a real human. I hate those recorded voices which say ‘press one for this and press two for that.’

    “We’re manned 24 hours a day. Our control room is there as much as anything for the safety of each and every security officer we employ. They’re only ever a phone call away, and if they don’t ring in, we go and check that they’re OK.”

    So far, so good. Though there have been incidents, including one in which a guard was bound and gagged, none has fared any worse than the two security men who were patrolling premises on Preston’s Winckley Square: “They heard the lift set off, so one guard started at the top of the building and the other set off from the bottom.

    “They didn’t find anyone but discovered later on that the building was supposedly haunted and that the lift had a habit of setting off on its own.

    “Their report next morning said ‘change of underwear required.'”

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