Glasgow children to be helped by a city firm started 70 years ago by a WW2 refugee

Posted on May 14, 2024

A Scots business founded by a refugee who fled Nazi oppression on a Kindertransport train is celebrating 70 years in business, by helping 70 disadvantaged children in Glasgow.

Fred Weiss was born at a time of turbulent politics in Europe, and to a family later decimated by the holocaust.

By the time he was a teen, he was living with his mother in Vienna, officially classed as a ‘stateless child’. Just months before the Second World War broke out the now 17-year-old Fred was granted papers to leave as an adult volunteer, supervising dozens of children travelling alone on refugee trains and ships bound for the UK.

Ambition and growth

Sponsored by the Caplan family in Giffnock, Glasgow, young Fred began working for a bedding company, a move that was to define his entire career in the city.

As one family member later recalled: “When they offered him the chance to buy 49 per cent of that business, he knew it was time to trust himself and go out on his own.”

Elite Bedding Company, now Elite Contract Furniture, the firm Fred set up in the 1950s, is still a family run business today, and a major player in the contract bedding and furniture market in Scotland. Its work graces the Radisson Red Sky Bar, the Royal Scots Private Members Club, and numerous hospitality and healthcare enterprises around Scotland.

Over the years daughters Betsy and Eleanor, his sons-in-law, his wife Beatrice and other family members have worked in the firm. They have been part of a loyal staff, many of whom worked with the firm until their own retirement.

His daughter Betsy Winston, now managing director in the firm, and grandson Greg are thrilled to carry on Fred’s legacy.

Betsy said: “It’s very unusual to have a family firm last this long, and still be in the same hands. The average length of time a UK business exists is just eight years, and here we are, 70 years on and honouring dad’s achievements in a way he would have loved.”


Greg and Betsy
Greg and Betsy

Working with local charities

Fred-The-Bed, as he was affectionately known, was hugely involved in charitable works in and around Glasgow, and donated beds to needy families for decades.

This year, working with Cash for Kids and supported by St Mirren Women Football Club, which Elite sponsors, the firm is donating 70 beds and mattresses to families in the city to mark the anniversary.

Elite director Greg added: “My grandfather’s own dad died very young, and Fred had a tough beginning, which is perhaps why he always wanted to help children in particular.

“All of his mother’s family were to die in the holocaust, and he restarted life in Glasgow with nothing. He worked incredibly hard to learn a trade then build up his business, and always said that one thing would prove he had been a success – owning a Rolls Royce. He went on to have two (giving up his beloved cigarettes on the day he got the keys, so they never ended up smelling of smoke!)”

Fred died in Glasgow at the age of 89, after enjoying a retirement spent partly in his beloved Majorca.

Making a difference

Betsy added: “We are incredibly proud of him, and the business he built up. It shows that a young refugee, given opportunities and driven by ambition can succeed in the world, make a worthwhile contribution to their new community and leave a meaningful legacy.

“As Elite Contract Furniture celebrates its 70th anniversary, we are not only doing something fitting in dad’s memory, but looking forward to the years to come.”

She added: “We’ve had challenges in recent years – Brexit massively increased our costs, and our customer base largely closed down over Covid – but as a family we are proud of how the business and our customers have rallied.”

Discover more about Elite Contract Furniture here.

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