Edwards started KK Finefoods from her kitchen in 1987, making veggie meals for local pubs and cafes – all while single-handedly raising three kids.
Two decades on (and three factories later), her Wales-based business turns over £10.5m and supplies ready meals and frozen food to the likes of Tesco, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. Edwards is continually devising new recipes and launches 40 new dishes each year.
Out of her 160 employees (which includes two of her children), 65 are immigrants.
"There’s zero unemployment in Deeside, so it’s very hard to find local talent," says Edwards. "We’re not that far from Liverpool and I advertise in local papers – but like a lot of UK manufacturers, I can’t get labour. Brits tend to stay a few weeks and then leave. They’re just not interested in these kinds of jobs."
Edwards relies on recruitment agencies to tap into the pool of Polish workers in this country.
But that still leaves a problem: the language gap. "We’re not a mass-production factory," says Edwards. "We’re very hands-on, so employees need to be able to understand complicated instructions and health and safety procedures."
Edwards applied for a European initiative grant through the Welsh Assembly and now runs a three-hour English lesson for her foreign workers each week. The local college provides the teachers.
"It works brilliantly. The Poles are much more involved and interested in what’s going on in the business. They’re no longer on the fringe."Leyla Edwards has been shortlisted for the manufacturing gong at the First Women Awards. Read about fellow contender Connie Parry here.