Sessions UK and its History in York

The City of York

The city of York is renowned worldwide for its historical significance. It is hard to walk a few feet without bumping into a famous landmark or a medieval building of some description – there’s even a medieval wall circling the city centre. King George VI once said “The history of York is the history of England” and this is true. Its historical affiliation with both Romans and Vikings makes it one of the country’s most beautiful historic cities. Within a city steeped in history, certain businesses are forever woven into the city’s folklore. Some of these include businesses such as Terry’s, the British chocolate makers that opened its first shop in York back in 1767 before finally closing its doors in 2005. The Holgate Road carriage works is yet another example of a large employer that was once based in the city of York but subsequently had to close its doors. What was once a thriving business had to close indefinitely in 1996, due to a shortage of orders as a result of the uncertainty that mounted following the privatisation of British Rail. In an ever-changing world, businesses rarely withstand the test of time. But Sessions, a York-based company now specialising in labels and labellers, have managed to do so.

The Sessions Story

The business was founded in 1811 by Quaker William Alexander and was originally a book and stationery shop in Castlegate, York. You can actually find a replica of the shop in the Castle Museum’s model street in Kirkgate. Fast forward to 1865 and the business was bought by the Sessions family and in 1907 William Sessions gave up the shop to concentrate entirely on printing, selling grocery labels during the first world war. The business was highly successful for many years, and it wasn’t long before ‘Sessions of York’ became an iconic name that was synonymous with the city of York and famous for their versatile labels and labellers. As the business thrived the company grew, employing more and more staff and eventually moving to a new home in a large building in Huntington, 2 miles from York’s city centre. Eventually, Sessions of York would face their own challenges. In 2007 the world was hit by one of the worst economic catastrophes on record. The global financial crisis hit businesses hard and saw huge spikes in unemployment figures as a direct result. Unfortunately, Sessions of York was no exception. After seeing a drastic dip in sales, Session of York would go into administration in 2010 causing over 100 people to lose their jobs, in what would be a sad day for York’s proud industrial heritage. The directors of Sessions would later blame the global recession for its closure, claiming that it had a huge impact on sales and that the fall in the value of the pound against the Euro meant there was sadly no other choice. The company’s three divisions were split and the machine division would then be bought by a York-born entrepreneur, Adrian Barraclough, saving a further 7 jobs as a result. Adrian would keep the Sessions name saying he couldn’t sit back and watch 199 years of experience and investment be wasted.

Moving Forward

What was once a 199-year-old label business has now evolved into a business supplying labels and manufacture of machinery for printing and applying labels to various bottles, boxes, cartons and many other types of innovative package that may require a self-adhesive label -with clients all over the world including  pharmaceutical companies, vets and distilleries to name a few. Supplying highly effective and innovative bottle labelling machines, such as the Bottle-Matic I and the Bottle-Matic II has contributed towards the company’s recent success. But one thing that stands out as a key contributing factor has been Sessions UK’s versatility and diversification during challenging times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge obstacles for all businesses, but where there is struggle, there is quite often opportunity. Sessions UK has seen a sudden high demand for some of their machinery, including the York built RC30 due to its test tube and vial labelling functionality, as well as other machines in their range that offer bottle labelling in various shapes and sizes. This upturn cannot be accredited to just bottle labelling demand, but also to the members of staff at Sessions UK and their innovative ideas and work ethic, which could be perceived as a throwback as to what made York’s industrial heritage so iconic. The name and products of Sessions might have changed slightly, but the core values and standards that were once associated with Sessions of York, remain the same.

Ben Kealey 26.07.2020



The Impact of the Pandemic



In March 2020, the world stood still as COVID-19 wreaked havoc around the world, with major cities implementing new lockdown measures in order to keep people inside and prevent the spread of the virus. These measures were extremely damaging for many industries, including high street retailers and the hospitality industry, as staff were forced to stay at home with encouragement from the government’s furlough scheme. Although some lockdown restrictions have been lifted since then, the damage is clear to see as mass redundancies are becoming more common and a number of businesses have been forced to close completely as the lack of footfall takes its toll. Some companies however have been forced to diversify and adapt to these new conditions, and Sessions UK is a great example of this.

Steps Taken by Sessions

Members of staff at Sessions UK have been able to carry on working throughout the pandemic, by isolating themselves within different parts of the building. During this time, the York-based labellers have produced an asthmatic inhaler test and labelling machine which is now in high demand. York Press recently covered this in an article they ran which you can find here. Another example of an innovative bottle labelling machine is the RC30. This labelling machine is designed and built by engineers at Sessions and allows for mass bottle labelling on products such as vials and test tubes. This is another Sessions product that has seen high demand, due to the sudden need for test tubes and vials by the pharmaceutical industry during the pandemic. Sessions UK are currently manufacturing three new RC30 tube labelling machines, because of the sudden demand for testing kits. Unlike machines such as the Bottle-Matic which labels and can print on your more conventional larger bottles, the RC30 labeller can process smaller vials at higher speeds. Its innovative products like these which have allowed Sessions to thrive during these challenging times. Unfortunately, some industries that rely more on the footfall of customers, such as the leisure industry, have not been able to adapt as successfully – and they are the ones that have felt the tough financial implications the most.

Future Planning

As the world adapts to this new way of life, more businesses are having to change and diversify to embrace the ‘new normal’ and survive. We now see one-way systems introduced in supermarkets, mask-wearing is now mandatory in shops and social distancing measures are in place everywhere. But in order for businesses to not only manage but thrive – they must be able to turn struggle into opportunity. Much like Sessions and their RC30 and Bottle-Matic labelling machines, being able to forecast what people will be needing in this new time is essential. In these unusual and often unpredictable times, we are seeing large corporations famous for specific products, focus their attention on household necessities. Companies such as Mercedes and Dyson, famous worldwide for cars and hoovers, have now turned their attention to producing hand soap – a product which was selling out at alarming rates at the start of the pandemic back in March.  Huge fashion retailers such as ASOS are now producing face masks, as face masks have become an everyday accessory such as the wallet or watch. The face masks are even modelled on their website as such. Your smaller local businesses such as Sessions must follow suit if they are to flourish in these strange times. With a second wave of infections being a real possibility, and with no vaccine yet available – time could be running out for some.

Ben Kealey 10.08.20