The 25-year-old boss of a bottling firm who repurposed the business to produce over one million bottles of hand sanitiser during the coronavirus pandemic has been honoured by the Queen.
Rhys Mallows, managing director of Mallows Bottling, receives a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to the NHS and key workers.
During the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, the factory in Cowbridge, south Wales, went into full-scale production of sanitiser bottles and the gel itself less than 10 days after licensing rules in the UK were changed to allow sites to be repurposed.
Ethanol, the alcohol used to make beverages and sanitiser, was in short supply across Europe at the time, with countries like France, Spain and Italy closing down borders and retaining it for their domestic needs.
Mr Mallows told the PA news agency: “We saw the need in our direct community, in the local NHS trusts, in the old people’s homes, in schools. My wife is a teacher so I was hearing about how difficult it was for them on a daily basis.”
Mr Mallows and his fellow company director, his father Andrew Mallows, 56, struck a deal with a Scottish distiller for supply of a spirit that their family business then used in a recipe for the antibacterial gel at a time it was “incredibly difficult to get hold of”.
Rhys Mallows said: “We knew that people in the community were going to have touchpoints with one another, sanitising hands was a really quick way to stop that transmission.
“We’re not scientists, but we really felt that if we can give people little bullets to protect themselves, then it’d make a big difference.
“We’ve done some calculations, and we think we’ve sanitised 81 million hands.
“We tried as hard as possible to get those into the NHS trusts, into old people’s homes, trying to get into that supply chain (so) that we could make the strongest benefit as possible.”
Mr Mallows said the repurposing of the site, which is normally used to bottle premium spirits into glass containers, was a “big risk” as doing so could have damaged the machinery.
He said the effort would have been “impossible” without the site’s 29 employees, who he said “turned up day in, day out when it was probably a scary time”.
He added: “Everyone pulled together because they believed in the causes that we were working for.”
Mr Mallows said the experience has given confidence that the business can expand further, and it is looking to grow to 60 employees and help stimulate the local economy.
He said: “We’re looking forward to a brightest future as we’ve ever had. The pandemic has allowed us to go into new markets that we’ve never gone into. The Zoom culture allows us to meet buyers and international buyers that we never had access to before.
“Hopefully we’ll be launching into Poland, France, Australia and into America and we’ll actually over the next year become more of an export business that a domestic business.”