TIME machines, it seems, are big business. Past Forward Limited, the York exhibition-maker which uses 21st century techniques to transport us all into history, proves the point.

Its reputation for interpreting history using the latest multi-media techniques and an almost manic attention to factual detail has seen the company transform itself from a five person operation in 1996 accounting for turnover of less than £305,000 to a huge operation with 24 full time employees with turnover this year projected at about £2.25 million.

Now the firm which last year moved out of Walmgate into a roomier former school at St Edmund's House in Margaret Street, is pitching to become the Evening Press Growth Business of the Year.

Over the past 18 months Past Forward has completed 18 projects, the largest being the reconstruction of a medieval fishing village of Walraversijde near Ostend, Belgium.

Its hugely successful opening in June last year was the culmination of three years working closely with Belgian architects, landscape artists, mechanical and electrical engineers plus specialist suppliers, mainly UK based, like thatchers, potters and furniture makers.

As well as the interactive village, Past Forward also made a five minute film using 3-D computer modelling, stills and soundtrack to take the exhibition visitor back in time on a detailed tour of the medieval village as it really was in those days.

In the same way - and using latest in CAD design, CD-ROM, DVD, Laserdisc, video and film the firm has opened the digital doorway allowing time travellers to zoom through Tudor Boston in Lincolnshire and (in a £2.75 million contract) illustrated the Great Siege of Malta and the story of The Knights of St John in the island's capital, Valetta.

By contrast it recently worked on the creation of a Sensory Garden for the Archaeological Resource Centre in York.

The fame of Past Forward has spread worldwide since it was founded in July 1991 by Dominic Tweddle and Jeffrey Maytom as the consultancy arm of the York Archaeological Trust, following the excitement generated by the Trust's Jorvik Viking Centre project in Coppergate, York.

Shedding its charitable status in November, 1995 to become a stand-alone company it stayed faithful to its aim - to authentically interpret history, the environment or archaeology in a way that the public can understand.

The move to Margaret Street coincided with Past Forward and Heritage Projects combining forces to become The Continuum Group. Action Marketing, deals with marketing and PR, Heritage Projects takes care of operational management and Vision Works is in charge of the consultancy side of the business.

At the same time under the Past Forward umbrella was created Past Forward (Design and Build), MindWave (Previously Past Forward Multimedia), and Forest Developments.

Through Forest Developments, the company has been negotiating with Forest Enterprise - the commercial wing of the Forestry Commission - to develop 18 new forestry sites within the next 30 years. They will include visitor centres with interpretative exhibitions, all designed by Past Forward.