Project Scotland speaks to David Gray, managing director – northern regions, Lakesmere Group, as the Group’s turnover gets set to exceed £100 million
Q) How did you start out in construction?
A) I started early at the tender age of 17, after leaving school and securing an apprenticeship position as a joiner with a shop-fitting company.
A bit further down the line I decided to go back to college to study quantity surveying and I joined Lakesmere as QS in 1994, one year after Lakesmere opened its doors in Scotland.
Q) What’s the history of Lakesmere and how has it grown over the years?
A) When I first joined Lakesmere the office was based in the city centre of Glasgow and at that time, it was only a contracting base, as the estimating, design and procurement was undertaken by the head office in Winchester.
We were a small team back then, carrying out contract and commercial duties and most of the projects we had at that point were in Orkney, Shetland and Stornoway. It wasn’t until the late 90s that the individual regions started to emerge and create their own identity.
We relocated to larger premises in Queenslie in 1999 and since then, our Glasgow team has gone from strength to strength. Although very much a national company, our regional operations are vitally important and from Glasgow we offer our clients the complete package from full estimating, design, to procurement and contract services.
Recently, we’ve also seen an increase in demand for specialist glazing and flat roofing work and we have responded to this by further expanding our services and investing in our workforce to set up dedicated specialist teams.
Q) Most challenging moments?
A) The biggest challenge for me personally was when I took over the running of the Manchester office as well as Glasgow.
Logistically this meant a lot of travelling between Manchester and Glasgow but as the north of England was in recession at the time, there were many other challenges to face such as the need to re-establish working relationships with both the staff and our regional clients, as well as working through any cultural differences. The hard work has paid off though and I’m proud that the Manchester office is continuing to go from strength to strength.
Another key challenge has been the incorporation of glazing into the range of services offered by the Scottish and Northern teams.
Due to the ripple effect from the building boom in London we are now seeing a greater demand for glazing in Scotland. We have invested heavily in up-skilling of our team to be able to meet this demand which is reflecting now in our order book.
Q) What impact, if any, did the recession have on the business?
A) The Scottish office has always been able to work its way through any recession, however the recent downturn has had a significant affect this time round.
We’ve had to dig really deep to ride through this one. It was actually a benefit that we had the Manchester office under our wing during this time as we were able to share both resources and projects that suited both region’s skills base.
Q) What does the future hold for the business?
A) There are plenty of exciting opportunities lined up for the Northern region, particularly as our glazing capabilities continue to develop and across the Group we are seeing greater demand for our in-house manufacturing services.
And without doubt this has been one of Lakesmere’s most successful years to date, with turnover hitting £96 million earlier this year and on track to exceed £100 million by year end. However I wouldn’t say I have even been driven by turnover or by being the biggest, I feel that we’ve just naturally evolved over the years to become what we are today – a specialist in our field.
We will always continue to build and develop the skills base of our respective teams so that we remain fluid and flexible to meet the challenges that come our way as well and deliver for our clients.
Q) How do you stand out in a competitive marketplace?
A) For me, the incorporation of McMullen Facades into the group and the launch of our own in-house manufacturing service has really given us an edge.
The Lakesmere Group is now the only UK-based specialist contractor that can deliver the full range of building envelope solutions including manufacturing.
Q) How important has the Scottish market been to your success?
A) It has been and continues to be vitally important. We have strategically established teams in the key regional areas in which our clients operate which is why Glasgow was one of the first offices to open.
Scotland is a huge market in its own right, full of unique challenges and opportunities, and so it’s been essential to our success that we have a dedicated team here in Glasgow that knows the area, knows the specific building regulations and more importantly, understands the needs of the client.
The investment in the education sector in Scotland has also made a really positive impact on our order book.
Q) Can you talk about some of the Scottish projects you’ve been involved in?
A) We are proud to have been involved in a number of iconic projects in the region which includes Glasgow Fort retail complex, Xscape, Little France Medical Research Centre in Edinburgh, Ravenscraig sports facility and Robert Gordon University up in Aberdeen. These projects helped define us as a business.
Most recently, we have delivered the external cladding package for the new Queen Elizabeth Teaching & Learning Centre in Glasgow which forms part of the campus of the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital on the site of the former Southern General Hospital.
We were also delighted to be acknowledged at the recent Scottish NFRC Awards for our work at the University of Strathclyde’s new technology and innovation centre where we have designed and installed the unusual stone-look rainscreen cladding and structural framing system.
When I look back over the years and reflect on the size, type and complexity of the projects we’ve completed, it just goes to show how we’ve developed.
Looking ahead we have recently secured a number of new contracts in the education sector, including the University of Edinburgh’s new Roslin Innovation Centre and Forfar Community Campus in Angus.
The geographical reach of Lakesmere’s northern operation does extend outside of Scotland into the north of England and we have worked on some fantastic contracts including the National Graphene Institute in Manchester and the first direct arena in Leeds.
Q) What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry since starting out?
A) We are constantly changing as an industry, we have to move with the times and be diverse enough to manage these changes within the business.
This starts from building our relationships with our clients, to up skilling our resource to be the best in their field.
The growth of technology, from the use of the design modelling software to BIM is also a world away from the tools I used when I first started out!
Q) What awards and recognition have you received?
A) We have enjoyed frequent success at the Scottish NFRC Awards for our project delivery and we are also proud to have been recognised for our health and safety record as part of the NFRC’s Safety in Roofing scheme. Our biggest accolade however has to be the Queen’s Award for Enterprise that we received earlier this year.