Solid foundations help housing specialist ‘build back better’
A North East manufacturer of off-site homes is confident it has the foundations in place to ‘build back better’ as it prepares for life post-pandemic.
Fencehouse Roof Truss had chalked up year-on-year growth until the pandemic brought construction sites across the UK to a complete standstill.
Forced to furlough a number of key personnel, the company saw orders stall and was only eligible to apply for minimal funding due to its size.
Yet, despite the temporary shutting down of sites and the introduction of social distancing measures, the company has since seen orders return to pre-pandemic levels and has outlined ambitious plans as it prepares for life post-Covid.
Steve Harris, co-founder and director, said: “My business partner Steve [Brown] and I founded Fencehouse Truss 15 years ago and have since gone on to employ 44 people – many of whom joined us as apprentices – at our factory in Houghton.
“Originally, we set out to create roof trusses and metal web joists however three years ago we made the decision to begin producing off-site timber frame houses and the company has grown year-on-year ever since.
“Customers now, more than ever, are realising the importance of sustainable living and the fact that our homes are built from environmentally friendly timber, sourced from Scandinavian forests with the strictest replanting measures, has really helped us build a reputation as a high-quality, ethical supplier that people can trust.”
Fence House Truss invested close to £500,000 in new machinery in the months prior to the pandemic due to the growing demand for its off-site homes – as well as its roof trusses and metal web floor joists – however its facility was forced to close during the pandemic and orders ground to a halt.
As a net importer, the company’s reliance on products from Scandinavia also meant that – once it was safe to restart production – not only did it have to adapt to social distancing measures, but it was also facing huge supply shortages.
“The safety of our staff is our number one priority therefore we halted production as soon as we were advised to do so,” Steve added. “Our designers and a number of other staff were able to continue working from home however the others had to be furloughed.
“Luckily, we were able to tap into funding from Sunderland City Council’s Covid grant scheme, but apart from that I think we slipped through a few of the cracks due to our size. We’re not a big business but we’re not a small business either, so the grant we secured from the council helped us a lot.”
Fencehouse has since returned to full production and – buoyed by the launch of the government’s ‘Project Build’ initiative is now anticipating a return to pre-pandemic growth levels as it capitalises on the rising demand for sustainable housing across the UK.
Steve added: “The construction industry drives a lot of sectors and it’s encouraging to see the Government taking action to speed up the building process. It’s no secret that the UK has a huge housing shortage and anything that helps plug the gap will provide a huge boost to the industry.
“We’ve already seen orders return to near pre-pandemic levels since building sites reopened and are confident that – our recent investment in new machinery and the skilled workforce that have served us so well over the past 15 years – will help us kick on as we plan for 2021 and help the country build back better.
“As a compny deep-rooted in the city, we take great pride in the opportunities we’ve provided to local people, especially through our apprenticeships, and are confident that more jobs will follow in the year ahead as a result of this growth, despite the adversities we’ve faced.”
Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Housing innovation and offsite manufacturing is firmly on the agenda in Sunderland. We want to be a city renowned for innovation in housing, which is why we’re moving forward with projects like the Sunderland Future Living Expo in 2023, which will explore how modern methods of construction will transform our homes, and indeed, the homes that will be built on Riverside Sunderland will be super-sustainable dwellings.
“It’s fantastic that we have businesses in the city that are innovating, and delivering products that are kind to the planet too, so I am delighted that business has bounced straight back and wish the team the very best with its continued fightback after a year of challenge for so many businesses.”
Sunderland is hosting its Festival of Future Living Expo – a month-long event on the Riverside Sunderland site – in summer 2023, featuring demonstrations and experiences to engage visitors about new and sustainable ways of living, set in-and-around new high-quality homes that will be completed on the former Vaux Brewery site.
To find out more about Sunderland Future Living Expo, visit www.sunderlandexpo.com.
For more information about Sunderland as a place for manufacturing companies, visit www.makeitsunderland.com, call +44(0)191 561 1194, or email email@example.com. Or follow @MAKEitSund on Twitter for updates from the city.