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High hopes for experts who flue in to give a clean sweep.

Byline: By Abbie Wightwick Western Mail

Millions of children around the world will be hoping Father Christmas comes down their chimney tonight.

But his job is getting more and more difficult in Wales thanks to an unprecedented shortage of chimney sweeps.

A renaissance of genuine fireplaces, attributed to the popularity of home makeover programmes, has left the country with not enough sweeps as there are chimneys in need of a clean.

Jo Flounders, 38, one of Wales' only women chimney sweeps, started cleaning chimneys as a sideline to her main business of running a poultry farm.

But she soon found she was in such demand that she had to hire a manager to run the farm while she diversified into becoming a full-time chimney sweep.

Yesterday, the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS) warned that a new fashion for real fires had left the whole of the UK with a shortage of fully-trained sweeps. Many people with log and coal fires are also unaware of how often they need to sweep them to stay safe, NACS president Martin Glynn warned.

Mrs Flounders launched her company, Amman Valley Chimneys, a year ago from the free range poultry farm she runs with husband Chris at Gwaun Cae Gurwen, near Ammanford.

The couple, who still live at the farm but have employed a manager to run it, are considering taking on a trainee sweep and even franchising the business to other parts of the UK.

Jo trained to be a sweep after moving to Wales in 2005 to run the farm. The couple soon discovered that they needed extra income to pay the large mortgage and thought chimney sweeping would be provide an added, rather than their main, income.

Jo got the idea from her father Pete Rispin - a retired Yorkshire chimney sweep - after the couple struggled to find someone local to sweep their solid fuel Rayburn.

She then funded the scheme with help from the Welsh Assembly Government's g2e business start-up programme for students and graduates

Jo and Chris now sweep chimneys from Swansea to Carmarthen, where they estimate there are around 35,000 homes with working flues.

Although the summer is supposed to be the quietest time of the year for chimney sweeps, the couple worked flat out throughout this year and have been "very busy" in the run up to Christmas and the new year when people particularly want real fires.

"We originally thought the chimney business would bring in some extra money to help pay the mortgage, but it's really taken off," Jo said.

"Although we have discovered that the only local sweep had sadly died a few years ago, we have been surprised at the demand for our services.

"There are a lot of companies doing roof work and chimney work, but we seem to be the only one offering the complete service from the hearth right the way up to the terminal on top of the chimney pot.

"We do everything from a simple sweep to a complete stove installation, including re-linings and replacing old pots.

"There is a shortage of chimney sweeps, probably right across Wales.

"It is a young person's job. We are in our 30s and fit and able to climb.

"It is also unusual to be a woman chimney sweep. There is one I know of in North Wales and one in Scotland, but there aren't many of us.

"It is important to have your chimney swept at this time of year. This is a busy time of year around Christmas because people want a fire and realise their chimneys may be blocked by birds' nests and soot build up.

"If you have a gas fire chimney it still needs sweeping and to be looked at. Birds nest in the flue and it's more dangerous than if they do so over a wood fire as people may not realise.

"We have arrived at people's houses to find they are already showing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning - baggy eyes and pale lips."

Mr Glynn, who is a sweep in Kent, said, "Increasing numbers of people have real fires because it is fashionable and because it is nice to have a real fire. Wood is also a renewable source.

"Sweeps are increasingly in demand and there is a shortage. Our busiest time is September to March.

"We are very busy now with people getting their fires ready for Christmas.

"It's important for safety to have your chimney swept by a qualified sweep.

"People are not always aware of the need to have their chimney swept. It must be done at least once a year for smokeless coal, three times a year for wood and twice a year for coal."

We originally thought the chimney business would bring in some extra money to help pay the mortgage
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 24, 2007
Words:801
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