Construction firm has weathered storm and is flourishing again

When the construction sector began to buckle in 2008 under the weight of the ensuing recession, Mill Hill-based Bryan Lee Building Contractors battened down the hatches and prepared for the worst.

The sector began to crumble, and insolvencies became a daily occurrence, particularly for smaller businesses. Janet Cottam had started full time in her father’s business, established in 1980, just four years earlier. Her brother, Tommy, has also worked in the business for 27 years.

“It was a terrifying time. I have never worked harder, and neither has anyone in the business. We did all we could to retain on-going contracts and explored new areas to maintain revenues. We reduced costs and kept focussed on the business,” said Janet.

Not only did Janet and her family keep the business afloat, they also managed to keep all their employees, from bricklayers, to joiners, to painters, in work too.

Now, the business appears to be back on solid ground and fighting the good fight for growth. An extra 10 staff have been employed in the last year, following an impressive 20% rise in turnover over the past 12 months.

Janet said: “We have seen a steady increase in enquiries and new business wins – it’s not earth shattering amounts but it is providing stability - we are able to look forward rather than just fighting for the day-to-day. We do face difficulty in the tender process for public contracts, as the levels of red tape are huge and only a substantial business can overcome those, and the bigger outfits invariably win out.

“We’re also able to provide apprenticeships to young people from the local area, including a trainee surveyor to assist our full time quantity surveyor. We really enjoy moulding talent and seeing them grow as employees and as well-rounded people.”

Bryan Lee Building Contractors was lucky. The construction industry saw the second highest number of businesses collapse during the recession, just behind the closely linked real estate sector. And it’s not out of the woods just yet. The Construction Skills Network predicts falls in job levels every year until 2016, as a result of a 20% downturn in public sector housing contracts and a 5% fall in the private housing sector.

Janet, however, is not be phased by these figures: “We won’t be taking our eye off the ball and we’ll be here when times come good again, providing jobs for local people and seeking to add to the economy and the communities we are a part of.”

Bryan Lee Building Contractors is a member of Hive - Blackburn and Darwen's powerful network of business leaders. Janet believes there is something about businesses in the area that sees them survive and thrive through adversity: “The Blackburn and Darwen-based businesses we come across have a dogged determination and a will to succeed. If we can harness that as a collective – which is one aspect of what Hive is attempting to do, it will result in a healthier economic outlook for all.” To read more about the Hive business leaders network, including details of how to join, visit www.business-hive.co.uk or call 01254 585613.