Ledbury's Helping Hand Company has entered the new year with the prospect of fresh markets in Holland, Canada and Australia.

This following the firm's success in designing a revolutionary new chair for disabled people.

The business, on Bromyard Road Trading Estate, was given a £50,000 research and development grant by the Government last spring.

It has used the money to take on design engineer John Gammond, and get a product out on the market through a hi-tech process of "rapid prototyping".

Director Andrew Wilson said that 3-D computer design has been matched to a process where components are cut out of resin by a laser beam at a plant in Telford.

This means that the Ledbury company can handle the components designed on the computer screen, and the resin parts are actually tough enough to go into early production line chairs.

Mr Wilson said: "The product has been released in its first stage and orders are going a storm. The Smart Award from the Government allowed us to take on the design engineer and to bring the chairs through more rapidly."

The new chairs can follow and support the curves of the spine. Interest has been international, not least because the 3-D design images are now on the Internet.

In December, a representative from the Canadian Motion Group visited Ledbury and placed the first orders for demonstration models. In the same month, the Helping Hand Company was visited by the Australian company, Indomed, and more orders were won.

Mr Wilson said: "Shortly, we're to launch one of our chairs for the Dutch market. Our Dutch division at Arnhem should be breaking even, after 12 months of investment."

In the UK, Helping Hand has incorporated aspects of the new technology into around 30 per cent of its established range of chairs, while the new chair itself continues to make headlines.

In the summer, at the National Aids for the Disabled Exhibition at Birmingham's NEC, the innovative design was runner-up in the new products category.