In 2010, Sally Phillips was working as an ecologist specialising in bat surveys and going to lots of properties that had visiting bats. More often than not, they’d come into buildings through open chimneys. The more chimneys Sally looked up, the more she became intrigued by them. After doing some research she found that chimneys were (and still are!) designed to constantly draw air out of a property due to a phenomenon called the stack effect. Sally’s thought? ‘What an enormous source of heat loss!’ and that was when the cogs started turning.
Sally started to think about what she could create that would:
- block airflow but still allow the chimney to breathe
- be easy to take in and out of the chimney
- be versatile enough to block a wide range of chimney sizes
- not be too expensive
The key to all of that? FELTED WOOL!
Living in Cumbria she was able to scrounge wool off lots of farmers and in the process, learned about its various properties – naturally insulating, breathable, sustainable, high quality, under-utilised, compressive and malleable. Sally tried various types of wool but the only one that was coarse and stiff enough to hold its shape when felted was Herdwick wool. Just by coincidence, Cumbria was the home of the Herdwick sheep! It’s almost like it was meant to be!
To help with the development of the product, Sally contacted Lancaster University where they helped her to come up with a clamp and handle design to ensure that it was easy to put in and take out. By September 2012, Sally had a product that she was able to sell and over the years has been able to add various sizes to the range to cover most chimney sizes.
Since then, we have gone from strength to strength, selling our ‘Sheep’ all over the UK, Europe, the USA and Australia, employing 11 people across two rather large units on an industrial estate in Maryport. We have also gone on to win lots of awards with our Chimney Sheep including the Ends Green Economy Award, the Buildings & Energy Efficiency Awards and were named one of Kevin McCloud’s ‘Green Heroes’.
In the last few years, we have expanded our offering to include other practical household and garden items, with a focus on functionality and eco-considerations. We sell SheepWool Insulation (the only 100% sheep’s wool insulation on the market), laundry products including our very own Laundry Mac invention, a range of natural gardening products made with wool and jute, as well as curated selections of products made with recycled materials.
In 2018, we started Operation Wool. Here at Chimney Sheep, we are big supporters of wool and all its wonderful qualities, particularly Herdwick wool, using it to make our Chimney Sheep as well as our insulation, some of our gardening products and our Snug Feet insoles too. When we started out, we used to buy Herdwick wool from suppliers but in recent years, we have bought our wool direct from local farmers in Cumbria, naming the mammoth collection, ‘Operation Wool’. This helps to support the local farming industry and means that they can sell it for a better price than they would normally. We love to shout about wool and all of its wonderful uses so head over to our ‘Meet the Sheep’ page to find out more about why it is so brilliant!
In 2019 we were granted a prestigious BBA Agrément Certificate for our Chimney Sheep draught excluder which was a huge achievement for us and required years of hard work along with numerous rigorous tests. We are the only chimney draught excluder on the market to have BBA approval which is something we are really proud of and gives reassurance of the product’s fitness for purpose.
We also set up Buy Land Plant Trees (BLPT) in 2019, our Community Interest Company which sort of does what it says on the tin – buys land (agriculturally poor land) and plants trees! 20% of the profits made at Chimney Sheep go towards Buy Land Plant Trees and we set this up to help ‘do our bit’ for both us and our customers. You can read more about our progress here and in our regular updates in our blogs and newsletters!
So that’s us – quite the journey really! We are excited to see what the future brings and hope that we can continue to buy more wool, bring you lots more practical products you love and plant lots more trees!