A business set up more than 40 years ago to supply rural businesses and farms is still going strong...and exploring greener alternatives. Giles Brown meets them

A Dalston company is exploring the future of delivering lower emission fuels after more than 40 years supplying businesses, farms and homes across the county and beyond.

The wagons of Allan Stobart Lubricants and Fuels, based south of Dalston, are a familiar sight on roads around the north of the country and southern Scotland, delivering kerosene for domestic heating, red diesel for agricultural businesses and white diesel for other commercial operations.

Allan Stobart started the business over 40 years ago initially selling oils and lubricants to local farmers and then quickly moved on to start selling paraffin and then red diesel after buying his first wagon. Today it has 16 drivers, a similar number of vehicles and 29 staff overall.

The fleet makes daily trips throughout north and west Cumbria, southern Scotland and up to the North East border.

As part of the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association the company also pays special attention to delivering fuel to vulnerable or elderly people who are part of its priority group of customers especially during the winter period.

"In the past where you've had the Beast from the East, we’ve had guys going out in Land Rovers to get to places you can't reach in a wagon to make sure people get their delivery in 20-litre drums and pouring it into their tanks just to make sure that they've got something,” says general manager Steve Hindmarsh.

“Customer service is very much a big part of what we do here.

"It's about taking the time to speak to the customers because we've got to bear in mind this might be the only conversation some customers have in a day.

“For the staff in the office and the drivers, it's about building relationships, being courteous and polite to people and taking the time of the day to talk to them. It's very important that you deliver that service because that's where your next order comes from.”

The company delivered around 67 million litres of fuels last year, a number which Steve says has risen in recent years.

For the last 12 months the company has been part of a trial delivering HVO kerosene to nine of its customers for domestic heating. HVO is made from hydrotreated vegetable oil and can reduce emissions by 90 per cent when compared to fossil fuels.

Steve says it also makes more economic sense for many people than converting to using air or ground source heat pumps, which cost thousands of pounds even after Government grants have been taken into account.

The trial was part of a wider project run by UKIFDA in which its members delivered the fuel to 150 homes which had their boilers converted to use HVO. Each conversion cost around £600.

Although HVO is currently more expensive than kerosene, Steve hopes this will change as it becomes more widely used and if the government see it as a greener, more cost effective option compared to fossil fuels.

UKIFDA and other sector organisations are also lobbying the government to create a financial incentive for people making the switch to HVO and bringing the fuel duty in line with that currently levied on kerosene.

With fossil fuels inevitably going to run out one day, Steve says Allan Stobart also has an eye on diversifying into other alternative fuels for vehicles such as HVO diesel.

“There are contracts out there already who want to take a greener option,” he says.

“It’s attractive to larger commercial sites and organisations like local authorities. It’s definitely something we’re looking at.”

Allan and his family sold the business to West Cumberland Farmers in 2016.

As such it became part of WCF’s employee ownership scheme, preserving the family feel of the business and making all of its staff shareholders.

“WCF are very much aligned with Allan’s values as a family-oriented firm,” says Steve.

“Employee ownership gives you a bit of responsibility and makes you feel as though you can positively impact the business and there’s the potential that you can get something back through your shareholding.”

Steve says the company is focused on growth through picking up new customers and exploring new geographical areas.

"It's been very uncertain for the last few years, obviously because of Covid and then the Russian Ukrainian conflict,” he says.

“All these events had a massive impact on prices of oil. This means people are probably in a different place from where they were. They might shop around a little bit more, but if you deliver excellent customer service, then people tend to stay with you."