North East's oldest building contractor, T. Manners & Sons Ltd, bounces back from recession

Bishop Auckland firm is hopeful following a series of major contract wins

Thomas Manners, who founded T. Manners & Sons
Thomas Manners, who founded T. Manners & Sons

A family business believed to be the North East’s longest-established building contractor is seeing a major turnaround in its fortunes after being hit hard by the recession.

The 154-year-old T. Manners and Sons Ltd, which during the dark days of the economic downturn faced a dramatic drop in work, has recently secured a number of major contracts with schools, local authorities and commercial businesses.

Since its establishment, a family-run ethos has remained at the core of the Bishop Auckland firm’s philosophy, with the current managing director, Robert Manners, representing the fourth generation and his son, Simon, now also a director, being set to take over the business in the long-term.

“Being a family business has been particularly important during the last few years,” said Peter Spoors, who is responsible for marketing and business development at the company.

“The firm had built turnover up to about £14m or £15m before 2008.

“Then, when the recession came about, that dropped almost overnight, going down to £6m at its lowest point.

“Gradually, though, we’re building our way back up again and are on course for £10m or more this year.

“A lot of that has come about through being able to retain personnel and skills. We are lucky that at a time when others are talking about skills shortages, we have been able to hold on to skilled people, which may not have been possible if it had been a shareholder business.”

Formed by Thomas Manners in 1860 - making it one of the oldest businesses of its kind in the country - the company began life as a joinery firm and gradually expanded, moving to larger premises.

It still runs a substantial specialist joinery business, employing around 20 skilled individuals who have worked nationally with companies like Malmaison, as well as undertaking work for the likes of Durham University and Sage Gateshead.

The company also has a small works divisions, covering domestic insurance work and smaller jobs generally.

It’s main line of work, however, comes through its construction division, which undertakes building projects ranging in value from £50,000 to £3m.

The business, which now employs more than 60 staff directly and over 200 within its supply chain, has recently undertaken a number of schools projects in Stockton, while in Durham, its work has included home refurbishments and a contract for County Durham and Darlington Fire & Rescue Service.

It was also involved in a £1.5m refurbishment and extension at Kings Priory Academy in Tynemouth and a project at The Oaks Special School in Spennymoor, for which it was highly commended in the annual NFB Awards.

“We built the six form centre at the school and what appealed to the judges was that the school originally thought that with the budget and timescale they had, they would only be able to get a temporary building,” Spoors said.

“However, we were able to work with the architect to drive forward plans for a permanent structure built within 14 weeks.

“We were acknowledged in the awards for exceeding expectations.”

The company’s success has also been boosted by ISO9001, ISO14001 and ISO18001 accreditations, covering health and safety, quality and environmental credentials.

It likewise strives to secure its future workforce by taking on apprentices almost every year.

Many of the company’s current senior managers, in fact, rose the ranks through the route.

Regarding the state of the construction industry at the moment, Spoors said there was reason to be hopeful: “The number of enquires coming through has increased substantially to the extent that we’re now recovering to the point we were at before the recession.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re heading the right way.

“If this continue in the next few months and years, then we have a healthy future.

“There is a sense of confidence, because we have the people and the skills.”

In the longer-term, he added, the company reject the idea of pursing large-scale expansion, preferring to concentrate on giving its clients as much attention and value as possible.

“We think the loyalty of our customers helped us enormously over the last few years,” he said.

“It’s about looking after the customers first and foremost.”

Journalists

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