Backhouse celebrates its diamond jubilee

By Ged Henderson

14 Apr 2023

Backhouse Anniversary 1

Shirley Backhouse looks back on the past 60 years with a sense of pride and satisfaction. The family business her late husband Steve took control of in 1963 has gone from strength-to-strength.

She has played a central role in the insurance broking company’s growth, taking over the reins after Steve’s tragic and untimely death in 1974, when an aircraft carrying him back from a trip to watch a rugby international crashed on the outskirts of Paris.

Today she has the title of president of Backhouse, with her son Bill chairman of the highly respected group, which as well as its insurance arm includes an independent financial services business.

Backhouse’s origins stretch back to 1935. The original company name was W J Mercer and Steve acquired its insurance brokerage, based in a small Burnley office, when his father sold the business and he decided to go it alone.

Shirley says: “When the air crash happened, I had three children, the eldest 17, the youngest 11 months. The business Steve had taken over was beginning to grow through his hard work. It was a good business, and I knew I had to carry it on for him. I had no hesitation.

“I’d worked with Steve in the early years, typing out reports so I knew something about the work. I used to think insurance was terribly dull but as I got involved it became more and more interesting.

“Insurance was less complex then. Today it is highly regulated, with highly qualified professional people by examination”. In those early days the company specialised in the construction sector, today it delivers its insurance services and solutions across a wide range of industries.

As a leading independent broker, Backhouse’s insurance arm, Backhouse Insurance Brokers (BIB), specialises in providing its services to both commercial and private clients both locally and nationally. It offers a wide range of insurance and risk management solutions specifically tailored to the needs of clients, many of whom are high-net worth individuals.

Backhouse has been based on the Lomeshaye estate in Nelson for the past two decades. It has a significant annual turnover, supported by a 40-strong staff and a reputation that has been built on quality and service.

Bill joined the business just before his 18th birthday and moved into the chair two years ago. He says: “We look after hundreds of companies both locally and nationally. We’re up against the big guns of the industry but we hold our own.

“The difference is that we give a personal service. Our clients speak to a human voice and we build relationships.

“That is something that distinguishes us. We are not just another option on the keyboard, and we set great store in that personal approach. Our smaller customers are just as important as our larger ones.”

The business also has its own claims division. Shirley says: “When we set it up, it was something that small brokers didn’t have. It’s another plus for our clients, they know they will get this high level of service.”

As well as that service, Backhouse’s independence is also massively important to everyone involved in the business. Bill says: “We are one of the few remaining independent brokers in the UK. That makes us masters of our own destiny.”

Ian Dalziell, BIB director, explains the benefits of that independence. He says: “We are flexible, we can move quickly, and that means we ensure we can give a world class service to our clients.”

Bill and Shirley are full of praise for the way Ian and Chris Bardsley, BIB’s managing director, guided the business through the Covid pandemic, describing it as “admirable”. Bill adds: “No-one was furloughed, the vast majority of our people worked from home which is something we are really proud of.”

The management team also includes Graham Tracey, director of the independent financial services arm, which has around 200 private clients and substantial funds under management. Wendy Glass heads up the private clients division, which delivers insurance advice for several hundred high net worth individuals.

Although no longer in the chair, Shirley is regularly in the office, talking to and listening to staff members. She says: “That’s very important to me. A lot of people have been with us a long time and we have a low staff turnover. We’re not just a family-owned business, we think of our team as our family. These people are important to us and we want them to feel valued.”

Being part of the community is also important, Backhouse and its staff get involved in a range of local charity initiatives.

Looking ahead, Shirley has no doubt about the future direction of the business. Despite numerous approaches, she has no intention of selling to a bigger organisation. She declares: “We will stay a family concern, with more of the same going forward.”

Bill adds: “We aim to grow but not at any cost. Our values and commitment to service will remain the same. We’re in a strong position but we can’t be complacent.”

Backhouse team photo

Timeline

1936   W J Mercer & Co Ltd incorporated in Burnley.   
1963   Mercer’s acquired by Steve Backhouse and Steven Backhouse Group formed.   
1969/70   Headquarters moved to Trafalgar Street, Burnley.
1974   Steve Backhouse killed in the Paris air disaster; Shirley Backhouse becomes chairman.   
2000   Headquarters moved to larger premises at Brierfield.   
2020   Shirley Backhouse becomes life president; Bill Backhouse appointed chairman.   
2023   SBG’s diamond jubilee year.

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