H. Firkins & Sons is the oldest chimney sweep firm in London.
It was founded back in 1860 using bikes to cart cane rods and brushes around the capital.
But after the Second World War, the company switched to vans to cover greater distances.
Josh Firkins is a sixth generation sweep and the great, great, great grandson of the company’s founder Harry Firkins.
“Like most trades, we’ve been using vans to get to jobs around London for years,” he tells Zag Daily.
“But in the past 10 years, it’s been a complete nightmare. Journeys which used to take five minutes now routinely take 30 or 40 minutes. That’s a combination of the traffic and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).
“With the extended ULEZ [Ultra Low Emission Zone] charges we decided that now is the time to go electric.”
The ULEZ currently covers the area between the North and South Circulars, but over the weekend it was confirmed that the zone will now expand across Greater London from the end of August. This means more polluting vehicles within the extended area will also now have to pay the £12.50 a day levy to enter London.
“Our patch is across North London, but very often around Southgate, Finchley and Enfield – all areas which had so far not been included in ULEZ charges,” said Firkins. “That’s obviously all going to change, so we decided to act.”
The answer was EAV
H. Firkins & Sons’ response has been to invest in a £16,000 cargo bike developed by EAV Solutions.
The EAV vehicle is one of the largest on the market. With the capacity to carry 2,000 litres and a 150kg payload in its 2m³ cargo space, it has ample room for all Josh’s sweeping equipment and heavy vacuum.
Trusted by brands like Amazon, Ocado, DPD and Asda, the zero-emission EAV can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge and can access cycle lanes, safely navigate pedestrianised spaces and slot into any parking space.
Adam Barmby, Founder and CEO of EAV, told Zag Daily: “It’s brilliant to work with Josh and H Firkin & Sons with their EAV; they’ve taken such an innovative approach to a historic business, and we’re so glad to see the positive effect it’s having already. In short, this is exactly what EAVs are made for – we’ve built an adaptable, flexible vehicle that is designed to excel in urban centres.
“Our vehicles cut through congestion, and can operate 1.6x faster than vans in cities – while massively reducing the environmental footprint of doing business. Smart businesses like Josh’s are seeing the opportunities to operate in ULEZ and other central zones without fear of parking challenges or charges – and with ever more positive interactions with their customers.”
Building a loyal fan base
Firkins tells Zag that its EAV is proving a big hit with the chimney sweep’s customers.
“We see our branded EAV bike as a real USP,” he says.
“Last week, we contacted a large portion of our customer base to see if they’d be willing to be more flexible with their appointments so we had less travelling between jobs.
“Usually, customers want us to accommodate them – ensuring we can fit in with their schedule, but as soon as they heard about the EAV bike, they were bending over backwards for us – some willing to book months ahead so we could book more jobs in a smaller area and go by bike instead of van.
“Obviously, this has multiple benefits for both the business and the environment, so it is exciting times all round.”
Out on the road, Firkins said that many people have stopped to take photos on their mobiles.
“I was recorded for about 10 minutes by a child hanging out of the back window of a car the other day,” he says.
“People have a natural curiosity about chimney sweeps anyway, but this takes it to a whole new level.”
Going full circle
While the cargo bike is a modern method of transport, it also takes H Firkins & Sons back to its bike roots.
Because of this, the rear of the bike is proudly adorned with a photo of Harold and Samuel Firkins outside the Chimney Sweep HQ in Crouch End, London. The photo is over 100 years old.
“As a trade, we’ve primarily used the same equipment – rods and brushes – for generations, and so it is nice to revert back to how we used to get around on bikes too.”