Across the entirety of the United Kingdom, there are more heart surgeons than master chimney sweeps. An arcane but vital trade, chimney sweeping may conjure images of sooty Victorians getting stuck in blackened flues, but these days, it's a highly-technical business and masters are the crème de la crème. And one of them is based in Pendle.
A family business set up by ex-Army and former firefighter, Andy Mckane, Kelbrook-based Chimney Swept Clean has been keeping the flues and stovepipes of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire, and parts of Greater Manchester spic and span since the company was founded in 2009.
Spearheaded by Andy, one of just two UK Master Chimney Sweeps recognised by both the National Association of Chimney Sweeps and The Guild Of Master Chimney Sweeps, the firm employs three generations, with Andy's mother, Sheila, his wife Vanessa, and his children, Oliver (16) and Grace (10), all involved in some way or another.
"The business works better as a family: there's trust there," said Andy. "The kids are invested in it as well; my daughter Grace is only 10 but she says 'we're chimney sweeps'. Since the age of four she's helped with the banking - she's always been good at maths - while my lad, Oliver, sweeps part-time and my missus Vanessa is the director. She's in charge, top-dog."
With all open fires, wood, and multi fuel burners requiring a chimney-sweep approximately every 12 months, Chimney Swept Clean cover every stage of the cleansing process. On hand to clean, brush, and vacuum every kind of flue known to engineering, the firm also have a high-tech power-brushing system for jobs requiring a bit more elbow grease.
"It's very interesting and quite technical," said Andy, who - having working abroad a lot - enrolled on a range of chimney sweeping courses with the idea of starting the business and settling back in the UK. "There are thousands of different stoves out there and all jobs are different, so my personal challenge is not to make a mess!
"You meet a lot of people and see some weird and wonderful houses and come across people from every walk of life, from multi-millionaires to everyday people," added Andy. "The principle is all the same as it ever was, but you can't stick a kid up there," he jokes, chuckling. "They're all at school these days so you can't get away with it."
For more information on Chimney Swept Clean, visit their website at http://www.chimneysweptclean.co.uk/