South West-based Stonewood Builders has won the Federation of Master Builders title for its restoration of Codrington Court, a medieval hall house in South Gloucestershire.
Being crowned Britain’s Master Builder may be a dream come true for a contractor whose turnover has grown more than 50 times in size since it first entered the biannual awards, but the firm’s management sees it as reassurance that its values have remained intact.
Stonewood first won an FMB regional award in 2007 for a small renovation project when it was turning over less than £1 million with a staff of around 25.
Now the company, which was this week presented with an Isuzu D Max truck as part of its prize, sits within a group with a near £60 million turnover and 350 employees. The group comprises housebuilders Stonewood Partnerships and Stonewood Homes, groundworks arm Earthstone and architects Stonewood Design, based in offices at Castle Combe and Corsham in Wiltshire, Tormarton in Gloucestershire, Castle Carey in Somerset, Kidlington in Oxford and Exeter in Devon.
Ben Lang, Chief Operating Officer, said, “In 2007 Matt [Chief Executive Officer Matt Aitkenhead] and I both said it would be an amazing achievement to win a national award one day so to win the overall award is pretty special for us. It is indicative of how far we have come as a company and a team. We set out to deliver the sort of projects that would be regarded highly by the judges.
“The award is a lovely moment and special, and something that 14 years ago we would have said would remain aspirational. With all that is happening across the group, it is reassuring to know that we are getting better as a result of the growth and haven’t had to sacrifice, compromise or dilute anything to get to this level.”
Matt’s father Neill formed the business in 1972 and Matt and Ben started on site in the 1990s before buying him out in 2009. The business, which celebrates its half-century next year, has swiftly grown since then but, said Ben, the sense of teamwork first fostered by Mr Aitkenhead senior has stayed the same.
“The ethos that we had at the start is still there. Absolutely fundamental to our values is that togetherness and collective effort, supporting each other and sharing in our successes,” he said.
The addition of industry heavyweight Richard Cherry, former Chairman of Countryside, as Chairman has aided the growth. “Richard’s magic is that he doesn’t impose on us at all, he’s insightful and thoughtful and a great fit in terms of his outlook and character,” said Ben.
“He largely lets us get on with making the decisions and running the business while giving us really sound, sage, arm’s length thinking and experience.”
The award win is just the latest in a series of game-changers for the group. Stonewood Partnerships was made the South West’s first partner in the Housing Growth Partnership’s new Regional Growth Initiative, giving it access to a £300 million equity fund.
Meanwhile, Stonewood Builders has opened an office in Oxford in response to more work in and around the city and across the Cotswolds and is also expanding southwards into Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Earthstone, which has just ended its first financial year, is also growing rapidly.
The group has a strong focus on recruiting and developing its own staff and Ben is passionate about the opportunities the construction sector can offer, with many members of the senior team having started at entry level before undertaking apprenticeships and moving through the business to senior positions.
While there has been a small celebration at winning the award, it is seen mostly as an endorsement of the value of sticking to principles that have earned the group’s success. “Despite the challenging economic time we have been able to carry on growing the business without tempering our ambitions,” said Ben
He added, “It’s tough and we are facing the same challenges as everyone else, with material shortages and cost increases but we are in really good heart. There isn’t a day when the divisions aren’t working together and coming up with solutions to problems together and that’s the bedrock of our company.”
Pictured above: (left to right) Stonewood Builders Managing Director Jamie Priest, Stonewood Group Chief Executive Officer Matt Aitkenhead and Chief Operating Officer Ben Lang with the Isuzu D Max truck that was part of the Federation of Master Builders Master Builder Award prize