Parachutes used by some of the toughest soldiers in the British Army are in great demand – as tents and wedding decorations.
The parachutes, used by the Parachute Regiment, the legendary Paras, are made from ripstop nylon and the people at North Wales-based Denbigh Army Surplus have hit on a great way of recycling them.
They are waterproof and wind-proof and make ideal outdoor tepees and shelters and can even be draped from the roofs and walls of buildings to convert them into stylish wedding venues.
Some clever students in Scotland have even used them to make a Concorde-shaped display at the National Museum of Flight, near Edinburgh, while another big market is among ‘preppers’, people preparing for the collapse of society.
Denbigh Army Surplus are now one of the biggest army surplus companies in the country and customers include the National Trust as well as PGL, the UK leaders in school trips and adventure holidays.
Managing Director Rich Brady, 35, whose dad, Mick, and mum, Jan, started the company in Denbigh 28 years ago, said: “Basically we’re just recyclers – and that’s what happened with the parachutes.
“We took our first delivery of chutes 10 years ago and we believe we’ve sold 2000 chutes since then, almost four per week with demand increasing in recent years.
“We took one along to Oswestry Military Vehicle Show as a tepee for our display and the weather was horrendous with squalls of heavy rain and basically everyone started taking shelter under our tepee.
“It was a 40 foot diameter tent and it could shelter 80 people and it did and since then demand for them has really taken off.”
Now the parachute sales have really taken off, especially on the internet where Denbigh Army Surplus do 75 per cent of their business, and one of the most unusual markets is among the drone-flying fraternity in France.
According to Rich they snap up the smallest ‘chutes, four feet in diameter, which are used to pull out the main parachute on an actual jump, and fit them to their drones so they can land them safely.
Boat fishermen also use them on rivers as sea anchors, dragged from the stern of a boat to keep it on course with the current but principally there are used as tents and shelters and sell for £85 plus the necessary chord and pegs.
He said: “People are much more interested in the outdoors these days, with the success of people like Bear Grylls and Ray Mears on TV and that idea of going back to nature and living in the woods.
“We sell a lot to scout groups and schools and to companies running outdoor courses and because of the way the internet works and social media word gets around as it has with the drone-flying community in France.
“We first bought a batch from our supplier and we bought 40 stillages, they’re one and a half metre cubes which can be up to 40 average sized parachutes.
“You can get 44 stillages on an articulated lorry and we’ve just bought four loads so we’re having to take on extra space and at least one extra person to process them.”
Some of the parachutes are truly enormous, great 180 foot by 80 foot canopies used three or four at a time to drop tanks and other vehicles from the back of giant Hercules transporter planes.
They have an area of over 14,000 square feet, over 14 times the floor space of the average house though the more conventionally sized parachutes are the main sellers and helpfully Denbigh Army Surplus have made videos showing how to put them up and they’re easily available on their website.
The company, which now employs seven staff, was born in 1988 when Mick Brady decided to get out of teaching and he and his wife, Jan, a florist, went to the Ministry of Defence’s monthly auctions to but ex-Army clothing, shirts and woollen jumpers.
They moved to the spare room of their Denbigh home so Jan could repair stock in the main bedroom while Mick sold the clothing on building sites and at Sunday markets across North Wales.
The business grew to a unit on the Colomendy Industrial Estate in Denbigh and then to a bigger unit, their current premises where they have been for 22 years although they are now looking for more space as the business booms.
Son Rich joined them 11 years ago to build the website which helped the company grow even faster and they have continued to develop their range of products which, as well as the clothing and parachutes, includes Recruit Packs which they have sold to over 1600 army recruits in the last three years.
Best sellers range from ammunition boxes to snowsuits and include shovels, tow ropes and camouflage paint and their base on Denbigh’s Colomendy estate is an Aladdin’s cave of fascinating paraphernalia.
For more information on Denbigh Army Surplus go to http://www.denbigharmysurplus.co.uk/collections/army-parachutes and what an army parachute looks like as a tepee check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNPvp5MaO4U