People

Allen’s early ‘baptism of fire’ has shaped his auto recycling business into the powerhouse it is today

By Daniel Face [email protected]

Published: June 27, 2023 | Updated: 30th June 2023

For Allen Prebble, managing director of Silverlake, auto recycling runs in the blood.

“The business started in the garden shed at the end of my father’s house”, he said.

Norman Prebble, founder of Silverlake

“To begin with it was mainly body shop repairs, but back in the 60s there was legislation coming which convinced him to start selling parts.

“I was always around the business at an early age. Going up there after school, getting in the way of everybody.

“My dad gave me the hardest job, stripping tyres off wheels with a pole in the ground. And I did that for about a year.”

Allen then went to work with his brother-in-law repairing cars – but after six months he decided that he much preferred taking them apart to putting them back together.

He headed off to college for a course in mechanics – but after a year he realised he was more interested in the sales side of things and building a business.

Each time he was drawn back to his father’s garage, and the teenage Allen soon returned – driving licence in hand – to collecting cars in the recovery truck and doing odd jobs around the yard.

Allen and his team in the 1980s

“When I was 19, my father fell ill and left me to run the business with seven people.

“It was a baptism of fire really, but I did my best.”

Norman Prebble did return to the garage after about a year, but in a limited capacity. It would be up to his son to steer the company.

Fast forward to today and Allen is at the head of a nationwide business with a growing team of 140 employees behind him.

Together they process around 31,000 vehicles every year at Silverlake’s 10-acre, state-of-the-art facility just outside Southampton.

In his words, it’s a ‘one-stop shop’ for Hampshire’s motorists, with the business now offering vehicle recovery, collection, and disposal services, a tyre bay, salvage auctions – a far cry from the garden-shed garage.

The UPickIt self-service yard at Silverlake today…

“It’s been quite a journey over the last 45 years”, he said.

“We’re still going strong and always trying to improve so we can handle more vehicles in the area.

“There’s about 5,000 houses being built within a three- or four-mile radius of us, so we’ve got another 10,000 cars coming onto the road.”

On top of that, the demand for Silverlake’s reclaimed parts has never been higher, up by 235 per cent since 2020.

Initially spurred by delays from Brexit, and later the pandemic, nowadays the used market is also helping people to make greener choices in the push for Net Zero.

Being in the business of recycling, that’s always been a core focus at Silverlake anyway, and Allen has only recently noticed other companies and government policy starting to catch up.

Silverlake’s head office, just outside Southampton

“We were ahead of the curve even 16 years ago”, he said.

“Our facility was built with rainwater harvesting, solar panels, LED lighting.

“We’re replacing our fleet with electric vehicles wherever we can and using intelligent mapping for our trucks to save on fuel. Anything we can do to reduce our emissions.

“I think it’s my responsibility as managing director that we stand at the forefront of these new initiatives.

“So we’re always looking out for what’s coming round the corner, and we’re putting in the infrastructure now where we can.”

As a veteran of his sector, Allen has spent decades soaking up industry wisdom in order to stay at the cutting edge – from a key early mentor in John Dyas of Sunbury Salvage, to regular attendance at international events.

…and the UPickIt yard back in the 1980s

“I’ve been going to the Automotive Recyclers’ Association convention over in the States for the best part of 40 years”, he said.

“Coming straight from school with no business training, it really helped me to go and do that year on year.

“I learned a lot about how to develop my business, and about the good things you can do to support your community.”

And that’s exactly what Silverlake has been doing, from supplying Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service with salvage vehicles for their practice drills, to running their hugely successful UDonateACar scheme which raised £20,000 for local charities last year.

The company also has a place on the Board of Employers at Eastleigh College, with the team regularly attending careers fairs and hosting site visits for students from Eastleigh and CEMAST Colleges interested in motor mechanics.

It’s been particularly rewarding for Allen to see many of the students who started off on a work experience scheme with the company returning to take on fully-fledged jobs at Silverlake.

“Because I think that’s really what our business is based around – the people local to us.

“It’s made us sustainable all of these years, and I try to breed that culture in our staff too.”

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