The bricklaying team at Hodgkinson Builders have found unexpected fame on the small screen. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the company’s MD – and one of the stars of the show – about their experiences.
In March of this year the reality TV show, Brickies made it to BBC Three for a second season, reuniting the original cast with some entertaining new additions. Ian Hodgkinson, the company’s foreman, Jack – together with Ian’s young bricklaying team – proved one of the surprise hits of 2022, even vying for an award alongside Love Island, but for Ian there’s a much more compelling reason for appearing in the show.
“I was approached before the pandemic to be a part of a reality TV show based on a building site, and the ideas and its development went from there,” recalls the eponymous founder of Derby-based Hodgkinson Builders. “All my working life I’ve striven to improve the public’s perception of the sector, so what was most important to me was the image it conveyed – and I think we’ve got that spot on.”
The Brickies production crew were filming over the summer months at various sites on which the Hodgkinson Builders’ team were working. As a reality TV show the programme is an unscripted account of the banter and bonds between the builders, as well as the daily pressures on projects and the ambitions of the cast. Its success is intimately linked to just how relatable and likeable its stars really are, as well as their very human aspirations. It’s these that Ian identifies as some of his favourite moments from season one.
“I do believe that watching Tom looking to move on in life and better himself with a forklift qualification is very emotional. Likewise, with Kuda’s mission to buy a house and getting a company van, or Lucas’s development in the trade – you get to see them grow and develop as people, which is very uplifting. It’s about ordinary youngsters building lives for themselves and that’s something that’s resonated with its audience.”
At the same time, everyone involved has been surprised by the show’s success – not least Ian. Not only was a second season very quickly commissioned after the airing of the first but Brickies was also nominated alongside ITV’s prodigiously popular Love Island in the Best Multichannel Programme category of the Broadcast Awards. “We are at heart just very humble Derbyshire folk and it’s been an incredible journey for us,” Ian enthuses. “To be at the awards ceremony was an unbelievable experience.”
Whilst only two per cent of bricklayers are female, the Brickies cast included a pair of fledgling tradeswomen in Jeorgia and Molly, and their success is proof that barriers to entry based on gender can be broken down. “Both those girls work for me, and they’re judged on nothing other than how they perform on site. They’re employed because they’re good at their job. A building site run by a responsible contractor is safe, there’s welfare provision, and the level of mechanisation reduces a lot of the manual handling. If you’re prepared to work hard, then they’re welcoming places for just about anyone.”
Through his passionate advocacy of all things building Ian has already developed a significant presence on social media. The Bricklayers Online Facebook group has nearly 50,000 followers, for example, with significant numbers on Twitter and Instagram. “I’ve not set out to be an influencer at all,” he reveals, “but what I do want to do is showcase the opportunities that exist for young people in the building industry, and that’s what Brickies is all about. We want to erase the negative perceptions that teachers and parents often have of the trades and promote it as a rewarding career path with great earning potential.”
“From the mid ‘90s a culture started to develop where you were perceived as a failure if you weren’t university educated. That’s simply not the case. I’ve got bricklayers in my employ who’ve gone through an apprenticeship and are now earning £1,000 – £1,500 a week. They’re travelling around the country and a few of them have even built their own houses. You can start your own company, as I have, or go into project management – there’s any number of roads that will open up to you.”
In an industry which is failing to bring through the next generation – and experiencing a well-documented skills crisis as a consequence – Ian’s company is a shining light. Indeed, he estimates that more than 20 per cent of his current staff have come through the business via apprenticeships. A brickie by trade, Ian’s company has been trading for more than 40 years, and his own story is a testament to the solid platform that a trade skill can provide towards future prosperity.
So, what advice does he have for those who might be looking to take on an apprentice? “It’s something that you need to be serious about, and work hard at, but there’s always lots of support on our Facebook groups. Talk to colleges and other learning providers, and recognise that taking on young people is an investment in your business. Do it right and you’ll get a loyal member of staff, who is trained in exactly the way you want, and will stay with you in the long-term.”
“There’s still so much ignorance about life on site,” concludes Ian. “What I’ve always tried to do is educate people about the modern realities of the building industry and, hopefully, Brickies will play its part in changing some mindsets. The trade has been good to me, and given me a decent living, but the most rewarding part of my career has been the kids we’ve trained and given the tools for life.”
If you want to find out more about Hodgkinson Builders, click here.
To visit the Bricklayers Online Facebook Group, click here.
For more on BBC Three’s Brickies, visit BBC Three – Brickies.