A couple of days is a long time at the moment, but just before the government’s lockdown announcement earlier this week, we spoke to Richard Stone from Stone Contracts about his decision to shut down his sites.
Stone Contracts works in the residential Block Management sector and refurbishes and restore large blocks of flats and apartments. Richard decided it was the ‘socially responsible’ thing to do to close all projects – not an easy decision for a relatively new company, which launched only 13 months ago. He says, “I don’t want to take people’s livelihoods away, but it’s got to be a balance with what’s safe. And I think there’s an argument to say we need to have a bit of pain now, hopefully for a shorter period of time, rather than a prolonged period of pain and possibly a second bout of this if we don’t do it right the first time.”
Richard has a background working on the tools, so understands what it is like for his team of subcontractors to suddenly be without work, but strongly believes he has made the right decision.
He said he’d been aware of COVID19 for about three weeks but didn’t really appreciate the magnitude until the Prime Minister starting his daily briefings. Richard says, “When Boris Johnson started doing his daily press conference, it really seemed different. And I was asking myself as the principal contractor what must we do to manage the safety of our team and subcontractors alike to keep everybody safe. We sat down with them and said that we are not prepared to expose people to that level of risk on or travelling to our jobs.
“The most difficult thing we’ve found to overcome is actually getting people to understand that they might not have it [the virus], they may never have it, but they could easily be an asymptomatic carrier and therefore still play a massive part in the spread.
“I’d rather be criticised as the person who overreacted but kept everyone safe than the person who put profit before safety, ironically though they will likely only believe we overreacted because having done so contributed to flattening the curve.”
Talking about the business he has been building, Richard says, “This year, we had close to million pounds worth of work secured across three work streams we operate, which are external repairs and decorations, we do communal common block refurbishments, which could be as simple as just literally a lick of paint and some electrical testing or something much more extensive like a 500k refurbishment, and we also do passive fire protection works, but also only on residential blocks.”
There is no doubt it is heart-breaking to see all this coming to a halt, particularly as nobody knows how long for, but Richard is clear this is right decision to have made, although he says the response has been mixed. “Some people think I’m overreacting, but I have had lots of support too. The nature of this industry means you might have a sparky working on a newbuild site today, then he goes to the suppliers, then he might test someone’s electrics on the way home. It’s the amount of touch points that the trades have. And nobody really thinks about it in normal circumstances. And it was only when I sat down and just did a quick mind map of just three or four random days of the touch points I’ve had. Then I thought, this is huge.”
Nobody can predict how things are going to progress as far as the coronavirus goes, and the impact on the construction, but Richard says there are things the trades can do to help them get through the crisis. “The first thing is, immediately find out what assistance is available to you. And don’t just listen to what a bloke on site said. Go and find out for yourself. And if you’re struggling to understand, then go to somebody who you can trust, who will be able to interpret it for you. Then, go through your bank account and look at every single direct debit. And get rid of anything that’s not a necessity. You need to be lean financially. If you’re paying off a loan or a vehicle, talk to the lender.”
Richard also believes mindset is an important factor. He says, “After cash preservation, you need to focus on mindset and mental health. So even if it’s as small as taking your bag of tools and getting them out and cleaning them all. You’ll feel so much better for doing it, because you’ve done it and action breeds positivity. Then, maybe have a look at your website, talk to some of your old customers to get some testimonials. Produce some content, write a blog. But focus on moving forward and being positive.
“One thing you must do is keep moving forward. A lot of the people I speak to in the trades tell me they don’t have time to work on their business because they’re too busy working in it. Now is an opportunity to use the time you’ve got freed up to work on your business, there will never be another chance like this.
“The worst thing anyone can do is nothing, because once we get to post COVID19 you’ll be poorly positioned to deal with opportunities.”