We’re delighted to announce that 2022 marks our 90th birthday! As we’ve been fuelling local communities, as well as the businesses that support them, since 1932 we thought now was the perfect opportunity to take a look at our past, present and, most importantly, our future.
This is all part of our ongoing celebrations which will be going on throughout the year. We’ve lots planned, including a employee party as a thank you to all our hardworking colleagues. So, keep an eye out for events, competitions and more as we want to get everyone involved in our festivities. After all, we believe in putting our customers first and this includes inviting you to celebrate with us.
It all started with a missed train
Northern Energy began back in 1932 when Ralph Robinson (the great-grandfather of our Managing Director, Stuart Illingworth) saw a farmer with milk churns had missed his train. Being a good Samaritan, Ralph offered to take the farmer’s milk to the dairy. From this humble, yet helpful start, he decided to buy a flat-bed wagon. He then went on to collect milk from farms across the Dales. So not to travel empty to the farms, Ralph hit upon the idea of driving out with his wagon loaded with coal, which he then delivered to the local community.
This great idea allowed Ralph’s business to go from strength to strength and before he knew it, he had a small fleet of wagons travelling across Yorkshire. It was the start of an emerging energy business and R. Robinson Haulage (as we were known then) was born, reaching out to over 200 customers.
In order to ensure an efficient and reliable service, Ralph then added a garage to our original Hampsthwaite site where trucks were serviced and fixed. Because then, as now, the aim was to do what’s best for our customers.
As Muriel, Ralph's daughter remembers, “It was never just about the price. It was important to us to provide extra value to our customers. My father always went the extra mile and provided more than just fuel to the community – it was about service.”
Later in 1951, his son-in-law John Illingworth joined the business, and went on to expand it by creating a network of depots. It was around this time that there was an increase in demand for agricultural oil. Due to this, Esso was looking for a partner in the area and approached the company to supply both local homes as well as farms.
This saw the company become an Esso-authorised distributor in May 1957 under the new name Robinsons Petroleum Distributors (RPD). This meant a real customer-driven change. One that built on the already established Dales-based business which had loyal customers as well as a good range of depots.
In order to meet customer demand and keep up the same exacting level of service, a new business was added called Robinsons Heating. As it was known for domestic installations, it was the perfect addition to meet customers’ changing needs.
In the mid-70s Ralph decided it was time to retire and take a well-earned rest. The original milk collection business – yes, we were still doing that as well – was sold to the Milk Marketing Board. Now, we were fully focused on fuelling local communities. To reflect this, we changed our name to RPD Fuels and Lubricants in 1979. During the 70’s Howard and David Illingworth, John’s sons, joined the business.
A few years later in 1988, John retired and Howard took over as Managing Director. As a young man, he was thrown in at the deep end, as this turned into a steep learning curve during what was to become one of the business’s most challenging times.
As Howard recounts, “When I was asked to take over the reins of the business, I was still in my 20s. My father had a very long-standing relationship with Esso and, having been an authorised distributor for over 30 years, it ran through his veins.'
At the time, Esso was looking to change it's deal. Basically, as it was based on the south coast, it didn’t want to supply all the way up the country to the North and so wanted a new arrangement that would have cost a lot more in financial terms and we didn’t want to pass on any additional costs to our valued customers.
This meant that one of Howard’s first decisions as MD was a major one to part company with Esso. At the time we were the first distributors to do this. But over the next 5 years others followed our lead.
After a brief supply agreement with Total, we finally became an independent supplier in 1992. It’s a decision we’ve never looked back from.
“For me the decision to go independent was an easy one,” Howards says. “It gave us the ability to source product wherever we chose and freed us to map out our own future in energy, especially as we could see a growing opportunity in natural gas.”
With a license to supply gas secured, the company evolved to become Northern Energy Supplies and we extended our services to offer LPG, natural gas and electricity.
We soon found that with the Government driving markets, we had no control over gas and electricity with regards to the savings we could pass onto customers, so we quickly stopped offering them.
Northern Energy today
Throughout the 2000's, our commitment to providing the best service and value for money saw us continue to grow both in size as well as reach across the country. From Alnwick to Skegness, we are now providing the same high level of family values that we were proud to be known for.
And talking of family, in the 2010s, Howard’s sons, James, Ted and Stuart all joined Northern Energy. Making them the fourth generation to be part of the business.
Also, during this period, we expanded our LPG offering, going further north into Scotland as well as into the North West and south into East Anglia and the Midlands.
Then, just two years ago, Stuart succeeded his father as Managing Director. One of his first jobs was giving Northern Energy a facelift as a brand, which is the look and feel we now have.
The next milestone in our history he led was the launch of carbon offsetting to our Premium Package and LPG customers.
We’re very proud to have been the first energy company in the UK to offer this service for no extra. And thanks to our fantastic customers, (at the time of writing) we’ve offset 55,601,768 litres of fuel, 114,249 tonnes of carbon and planted 6,000 trees.
Next was a close look at out values. We got all the staff together at our head office to assess our values and branding to make sure we were still true to our commitments and look at how they can help us grow as a business.
From this we created C.A.R.E which summed up the pillar of what we stand for – Customer Service, Appreciation of each other, Relationships as one big happy family and Effort by going that extra mile.
Our most recent initiative is the recent launch of our Oil Fox smart monitor which lets customers monitor their fuel levels using a handy app. This lets them see when they need a top up as well as warns them if their tank has sprung a leak or their oil is being stolen. In addition, it lets them keep an eye on their energy usage.
Looking to the future
As you can see, as a company, we’ve tried to always stay one step ahead of industry trends while maintaining the highest levels of customer service at all times and always going that extra mile whenever possible. This is something that hasn’t changed since Ralph's times 90 years ago when he first helped someone deliver their milk.
With an eye always on the future, we’re now getting ready to start offering new more sustainable fuels as soon as they become viable options. One of these is HVO (Hydrotreated vegetable oil) which is a new cleaner and greener fuel that can reduce your carbon emissions by almost 90% compared to traditional heating oil. In addition, it can be used in your current boiler so there is no need for an expensive retrofit and works in exactly the same way with no smell associated with it.
For our gas users, we’re looking forward to offering bioLPG, also known as biopropane. This renewable and sustainable option can also reduce carbon emissions by a staggering 90%. And like HVO, it works in your boiler without the need for any additional retrofit or replacement costs.
With such great green fuel alternatives on the horizon, we’re very excited about what the future holds for us as a business as well as for our customers and industry as a whole.
We hope you’ll join us for our 90th celebrations which will be going on throughout the rest of 2022. In fact, you can start right now as we’re kicking everything off with the chance to win 900 litres of fuel in our free prize draw*. Click here to enter today and good luck!