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Yarmouth company Gardline mark 40 years of success

PUBLISHED: 02:00 29 June 2009 | UPDATED: 10:28 06 July 2010

It all started with one man and a ship - and is now a global enterprise with an annual turnover of £100m and 1,000 employees,

And the remarkable growth of this Norfolk company over four decades has been marked at a special anniversary celebration.

It all started with one man and a ship - and is now a global enterprise with an annual turnover of £100m and 1,000 employees,

And the remarkable growth of this Norfolk company over four decades has been marked at a special anniversary celebration.

Yarmouth-based Gardline played host to 650 employees and their families from as far afield as America and Australia at Saturday's big party at the De Vere Dunston Hall Hotel, near Norwich.

The only thing missing was the presence of company founder George Darling who started the ball rolling by selling his scrapyard and forklift truck business to become the part-owner of a ship to cash in on the survey market created by the North Sea's burgeoning oil and gas industry.

Mr Darling died in 2006 but not before he had seen his original Gardline Shipping company develop an impressive worldwide portfolio.

Today the Gardline Group consists of nearly 50 companies, with activities ranging from marine sciences to satellite communications and shipbuilding to renewable energy services.

Current chairman and George's son, Gregory Darling, said the company's policy of never borrowing and using its own money had stood it in good stead to prosper despite the ravages of the economic recession.

He recalled the mid-1980s when Gardline fought back from nearly going out of business and his sense of satisfaction at knowing his father had seen things turn around by the time he died.

Admitting his father would have been “overwhelmed” by Saturday's celebrations, Mr Darling said: “The business started to pick up the year before he died and he knew it had actually got there after all that struggle.

“There is a great sense of satisfaction and relief because it is very hard when you can't pay the wages for months on end.”

Mr Darling, who went to school in Lowestoft and lives in Norfolk, added: “We thought a year ago we should celebrate the success of the company. The last three to four years have been phenomenal.

“I think it is a fantastic business and I probably have the best job in the world. In a world full of challenges, it never ceases to amaze me.”

He also paid tribute to the company's employees, including Willie Anderson with 37 years of service under his belt, and spoke of his delight that so many could be present at the anniversary celebrations.

“It's almost a bit scary because we've had so many good people work for us for such a long time,” added Mr Darling. “There are many people who have been here for five, 10, 15 years and I'm quite affected by that.”

Saturday also saw the launch of a souvenir book for employees, charting the history of the company since it was formed in 1969. Penned by former Archant journalist Roy Strowger, now of TMS Media, the book is a personal tribute to George Darling as well as a celebration of the company's success.

A copy of the book was presented to George's widow Meriel by Gregory during nine hours of celebrations, which include live music, a barbecue and family entertainment.

Gardline managing director Mervyn Wooltorton said: “It is a remarkable story of growth and development from such a small, but inspired beginning. And the success is down to hundreds of loyal and dedicated people, who have helped the company along the way. That's why we wanted to involve so many in our special anniversary.”

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