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Brickwork specialist experiences record-breaking year

Quality assurance first and foremost: (L-R) Ken Collins and Nick Wilson inspect the quality of their team’s work at The Willows, Blackwell, Darlington – an executive collection of four and five-bedroom executive homes where construction is nearing completion for Story Homes and houses are priced at between £550k-£750k

Although the year got off to a slow start for South Shields-based Brickwork Direct Ltd, specialists in housing and commercial brickwork, the firm is experiencing a dramatic influx of new contracts over the last six weeks with a labour value of more than £10 million.

As a supplier of bricklayers mostly to the residential development sector with a team of almost two hundred tradesmen on its books, Brickwork Direct counts a range of well-known housebuilders in both the private and social housing sectors as clients, including Gentoo, Keepmoat, Esh, Story Homes, Avant Homes and Partner Construction as well as being a preferred contractor for Darlington Borough Council.

Over the last six weeks, the firm, which is a member of Northern Counties Builders Federation and operates solely in the North East region – from Alnwick down to Teesside – has picked up five sites for Miller Homes with a labour value of over £4.2m, four sites for Story Homes at Dunston, Alnwick, Darlington and Stockton and with others in the pipeline for Gentoo in Whitburn and Sunderland, has secured projects with a total labour value in excess of £10 million.

(L-R) Ken Collins and Nick Wilson inspect the quality of their team’s work at The Willows, Blackwell, Darlington

Managing director, Ken Collins, is familiar with the fluctuations of the industry. As a time-served bricklayer himself with over 40 years of experience in the trade, he served as a sole trader on various schemes across Europe before establishing Brickwork Direct.

An entrepreneur at heart, with a garden centre, a nursery, and businesses in landscaping, scaffolding and maintenance, which all supply sub-contracted services to the main Brickwork Direct business when required, Ken knows how important it is to place quality front and centre of the business. Commenting on the new project wins and the current market, he said:

“We have a solid reputation with our clients. We only employ time-served, highly skilled bricklayers who take considerable pride in the job. Additionally, and importantly, we pledge to deliver on time, to budget and with zero defects.

“By mid-September we will have fifty squads of three staff (a labourer and two bricklayers) out on site on numerous projects across the region and we have another twelve projects, mainly with housebuilders, ready to negotiate.

“I believe that if we can help our clients to succeed, we will succeed too.”

Despite the recent influx of work, the market continues to be challenging and was quite sluggish at the start of the year with the estimating team, led by quantity surveyor, Nick Wilson, tendering for every project that came their way.

Their efforts are only now starting to bear fruit and although the cost of materials seems to have flattened out after a period when some suppliers would only guarantee costs for a matter of days, there are still some big challenges ahead, Ken believes.

“There is a huge shortage of kiln-fired bricks, which are the best you can buy,” he continued: “You’re talking £700 per thousand compared to £400 per thousand for cold-cast concrete bricks. Then there is the time it takes to get deliveries – you can get a cold-cast brick to site in ten days, but it takes four weeks to get a kiln-fired supply. So even though they are of an inferior quality, and more difficult to lay because they have a narrower edge, unfortunately they are becoming the norm.

“I also think we are looking at a downturn in the not-too-distant future, so I am delighted with these recent wins although we are still out there pushing for the next contract so that I can keep as many of our bricklayers employed as possible with the work we have already had confirmed.”

Established in 2003, Brickwork Direct employs twenty-five staff at its headquarters in South Shields and is forecasting a turnover of over £10 million this year – an increase of £2.5 million over last year.

(L-R) Ken Collins and Nick Wilson at The Willows, Blackwell, Darlington



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