By Anila Baig

KEIGHLEY is an overlooked gem according to businessman and resident Steven Burles.

The marketing executive was born and raised in the town and was so frustrated by people ignoring its importance he, along with some other local companies, set up the Keighley & Airedale Business Awards to highlight the contribution made by the entrepreneurs here.

His own achievements are impressive too. He heads up his own marketing agency, Puddle, which has made a huge splash in the business world - he has three offices in Keighley, Bradford and Leeds.

The awards are now in their eighth year and celebrate the achievements of many of the businesses in the locality.

Steve says: “Some people see Keighley as a thoroughfare to get to bigger places like Leeds or Ilkley or Skipton but they overlook its importance.

"There are so many world class businesses here. You can go to anywhere around the globe and you will likely see something which has been manufactured in Keighley.

"That’s pretty amazing in my opinion.”

The 42-year-old entrepreneur went to local schools including Ingrow First, Worth Valley Middle and Oakbank.

“I was academically challenged,” he admits. “I wasn’t really good at school but I was pretty good at drawing.”

He may not have been good at conventional academic subjects but he excelled in art and went on to study graphic design at Bradford College. He was head-hunted immediately after graduation by world- renowned design agency ATTIK.

“I was Senior Interactive Designer and at the age of just 23 was working with some huge household brands like Dawson’s Creek, Nike, Sony Europe, the British Council and MTV.

“I was immersed in this fantastically creative world of ideas. It was a dream first job.”

In 2001, due to the dot-com bubble bursting, Steve was made redundant and decided to start his own agency and EXSTATIK was born.

Over the next five years, he built EXSTATIK into a digital agency that was producing work for the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartridge World.

“One of our main clients towards the end of the five years was The Intermarketing Group, and in 2006 we joined the group.”

For the next four years, Steve ran EXSTATIK and became head of online for The Intermarketing Group bringing on board clients such as Sony Europe, Reebok and ASDA.

In 2010 he established Puddle just outside Keighley in Cross Hills and business grew quickly.

Further offices in Bradford followed two years ago and last year Steve opened a third office in Leeds.

As well as his own business ventures, Steve is keen to help other entrepreneurs in the area.

He has been an enterprise advisor for two years a role he passionately believes in.

“I think it’s so important to bridge the gap between schools and business. We need to influence and develop the school's career and enterprise strategy, giving students regular and relevant access to employers.”

He is also a co-opted board member of Keighley College.

“I meet on a regular basis with other board members and discuss and provide guidance on the ongoing development of Keighley College.”

He’s also involved in a motorcycle race team called Barrett Steel Racing. Initially starting out five years ago in a championship called Thundersport GB, they have now progressed to the No Limits Cup and hope to move into British Superbike Championship in 2021.

He certainly has A star Keighley credentials himself but that’s not all. His family ran an industrial fasteners and fixings business, Keighley Industrial Fasteners, now part of Powerrun.

“This was my first job, I started there at the age of 13 in the warehouse and continued to work there until I finished in education.”

Steve’s wife Sharon also works in the town at Barclays Bank and interacts with the community on a day to day basis. He has two children - Georgia who is training to become a chemistry teacher and hopes to teach in Keighley and Sam who is at Oxford reading physics.

For Steve, Keighley is the friendliest place on the planet.

There are all kinds of people here and that diversity is what I love most about this town. It doesn’t matter what job people have everyone is really friendly and warm. They have a lot of pride in Keighley.”

He lives in the local area and speaks warmly about the delights he has grown up with.

“I have been going to Cliffe Castle since I was a child. I have a lot of very fond memories of the place.

"You only have to drive five miles and you are on the Moors and the Pennine Way. It’s absolutely stunning landscape.

“One of my favourite places was the swimming baths in the centre of town. Every Saturday morning was spent there followed by tomato soup in a polystyrene cup and Seabrook Crisps in the cafe above.

“I also grew up going to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. The steam train is fantastic and I have taken many businesses I have worked with up there in October when they run the beer festival and they have always been impressed.

"It is such an asset for the town and something completely different.

He cited all the businesses in the area.

“Having grown up here and now running my own business and chairing the business awards, I get to see a real snapshot of what we have to offer. We have everything from one man bands to huge businesses employing hundreds of people.

"There are world class businesses like Timothy Taylor’s - a fantastic business in the heart of Keighley which has been running since 1930 and recently celebrated its 160th birthday.

“Then there is Snugpak in Silsden, one of the last manufacturers of insulated sleeping bags not just in the UK but across Europe. They supply sleeping bags for the Royal Navy.

“And also McNally EV, one of the UK’s largest electric vehicle charge point installers. The EV industry is one of the next booming markets and we have a business in Keighley who are very much at the forefront of it.

"But for me the diversity of the town and the warmth of its people is the crowning glory of Keighley. It might be small but it is mighty.”

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