Building's a passion for Tolent

Confidence in the North-East's future prosperity is building nicely - in more ways than one.

Confidence in the North-East's future prosperity is building nicely - in more ways than one. Alastair Gilmour reports.

For a company that likes to keep a low profile, Tolent Construction is riding mighty high.

The Gateshead firm recently reported a record turnover of £174m, a hike of 23% from the previous year, with pre-tax profits surging ahead 23.4% to £5.3m. And the 24-year-old company was part of a team that won a health and safety award at the recent Constructing Excellence in the Built Environment Awards for the Echo 24 development in Sunderland.

"We're proud to be a North-East company," says Tolent chief executive John Wood. "The region in general is known for its hard-working attitude and its fairness - what it's got is stickability. That approach goes down very well in other parts of the country."

Tolent's 600 directly-employed staff carry out nationwide coverage of building and civil engineering from offices on Team Valley, Teesside, Yorkshire, Manchester and London. Overall, the company expects to undertake £76m of work on Tyneside in 2007; £85m in Yorkshire and the North-West and £31m in London - displaying the Passionate People, Passionate Places banner prominently wherever is appropriate.

"We take pride in the region and we're proud of our North-East values," says John.

The philosophy is simple, too. He says: "We do a good job and finish on time and get loads of regular work through repeat business.

"We started the company in 1983 - six of us and we're all still here. There was myself, two joiners and four general operatives - you don't call them labourers any more - and we started off doing small jobs.

"Now we handle a combination of commercial and industrial contracts - a lot for blue-chip companies."

Tolent's order book has swollen from £110m at the end of last year to £122m and John Wood predicts construction turnover will rise to £192m for 2007.

He says: "Our business in Yorkshire and Manchester has been busier lately than it has been and we expect stronger growth on Tyneside this year."

Recent contract wins include £36m of distribution warehouses in South Yorkshire and Stoke, as well as a £17m contract to build flats at Byron Road, Shieldfield, Newcastle.

"That is new student accommodation built using a bridge over the railway line," says John.

"It straddles the line and is a good use of land. Some projects take an awful lot of time to get moving for all sorts of reasons and you couldn't afford to sit and wait; you need an awful lot of irons in the fire and to have jobs at different stages. For example, we prepared a site at the Baltic three years ago and that's starting to stir again now."

In 2004, Tolent won a Journal landmark award for its involvement in the magnificent £58m Sage headquarters in Newcastle.

Redevelopment of the Welbar House site in Newcastle is another Tolent project and John is hopeful the new Haymarket Metro Station construction will also land their way.

The award-winning Echo 24, on the banks of the River Wear, is a residential building of 170 apartments spread over 11 floors and boasts spectacular panoramic views of the coast. The Constructing Excellence judges were impressed with the effort to ensure that the project remained hazard and accident-free, as well as truly encompassing a "teamwork" philosophy.

Paul Burton, health and safety manager at Tolent, was responsible for ensuring the hierarchy of risk was continually and successfully managed.

A full risk assessment included commissioning a topographical survey, along with a hazardous material survey and a site investigation report. A traffic management plan was created with the city's highways department and reports were even carried out to determine the safest method of cleaning the windows.

Sunderland is a home-from-home for John Wood. Until last year, he was a director at Sunderland AFC and still views the club with great affection. He also has a high regard for the current owners, chairman Niall Quinn and manager Roy Keane.

"I still have a box at the Stadium of Light," he says. "I was very happy for Quinny to take over; he's a great lad and there's a good mix there.

"I wish Roy Keane had been there from the start of the season - his Manchester United background has been invaluable. You have to get the basics right and put the right people in the right slots - it's the same in any business. I always say, if it's not going well, keep your shape, pass the ball and don't panic."

And, it would seem, keep your passion for the North-East of England very much alive.

Some of the other businesses in the region supporting Passionate People, Passionate Places, North-East England:

Bowes Museum


Hartlepool Marina


Kimmerston Riding School

Locomotion - The National Railway Museum at Shildon

Newcastle Racecourse

North-East Chamber of Commerce

Northern Counties Insurance Brokers

Northumberland National Park Authority

Podcast Digital

Port of Tyne

Press Ahead

Reed Print & Design Ltd

Rothbury Golf Club

Seven Stories

Simon Bailes Peugeot

Sunderland Housing Group

Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue

Leighton Group

Dinamic Ceramics

Northern Heritage Service Ltd

Passionate People, Passionate Places is the award-winning campaign to promote North-East England as a great place to live, work, study, visit and do business. Hundreds of organisations in the region have already chosen to get behind the initiative. For more information on how your organisation can show its support, contact the regional image team on (0191) 229-6861 or visit


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer