Keen to take advantage of the Tees Valley becoming the first region in the country to achieve Freeport status, last October Quick Reach made its first foray into the North-East with the development of a 1,600 sq m depot in Teesside that includes an accredited training centre and offices.
When the powered access specialists opened the depot it not only ticked a number of boxes for the company, further helping its national expansion plans, but it also spelt good news for the Tees Valley region too, which continues to seek forward-thinking businesses looking to make the most of the unique opportunities presented by its Freeport status.
“When we heard about the benefits that being a Freeport would bring to the Teesside area, we were keen to get involved, particularly given the drive and determination of the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen,” explains David Barton, who is now CEO of Quick Reach, with Bob Dillon having taken on the Managing Director’s role. “I’ve been very impressed with Ben, who is very much an ‘action person’ that follows up his words with real commitment. He doesn’t just talk about making a difference, he does it. I absolutely love that.”
“There’s been a huge surge in confidence within Teesside with billions of pounds planned for investment, which is magnificent,” adds Bob. “From our point of view, we’re taking people on within the local area to develop the depot and integrate it further into the Quick Reach family. It’s really exciting to be involved in, especially due to the scale of the operation. We’re not talking small plans here; we’re talking revolutionary global projects that are hugely ambitious. It’s to the credit of everyone involved that it’s progressing so quickly and we’re delighted to play our part in being a small piece of what is a very large jigsaw.”
Quick Reach’s enthusiasm for its move to Teesside has been mirrored by the warmth of the welcome that has been offered by the region itself, as Ben Houchen, highlights: “Freeport status has been integral to attracting businesses of the calibre of Quick Reach to the area. They’re just one of many great companies that are keen to make the most of the opportunities available here. I have clear plans to attract jobs and investment over the coming years and we’re already seeing the positive changes coming through with firms expanding into our region. Great businesses like Quick Reach are playing a vital role in the transformation happening across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. Construction can’t be carried out without the people with the skills and the equipment to see it through.”
Part of what has helped Quick Reach’s Teesside depot hit the ground running so successfully has been the personnel that have been put in place to support its creation.
“It’s all about the people,” explains David. “We’ve got a really strong management team that has experience dating back over 20 years. Stephen Huntley is managing the depot for us and has been doing a great job. He comes from Huntley Plant, which he and his father have owned and operated for a long time. This tremendous local experience has proved absolutely essential.
“As well as having the right team, the second most important aspect of the progress that we’re seeing with the depot is the equipment that we’ve brought in. There’s companies new to the region that really want to make an impression and an impact. The equipment that we’ve invested in is a really good mix for these companies.
“We work in an industry that suffered from the financial crash and investment in new equipment was reduced. We’re all now coming through the other side really strongly, even in the face of the recent issues in supply that have caused difficulties. These have thankfully eased and there’s a huge amount of investment going into new state of the art equipment. Since its opening, utilisation has grown very quickly within the Teesside depot and we have spent around £7m on CAPEX including the acquisition of many new machines.
“The combination of having the right people and the right equipment has been absolutely crucial to ensuring the smooth opening of the depot and has been key to the great reception we have received in the region.”
Aside from the investment that the Tees Valley Freeport has attracted and the opportunities that are being seen as a result, another factor that encouraged Quick Reach to the area was the emphasis the region has put on driving environmental improvements, an objective that dovetails nicely with the company’s own green aspirations.
“Our ‘Reaching for greener’ motto really underlines our commitment to the environment, whilst at the same time admitting that there’s still work to be done,” outlines Heather Barton, social media and marketing manager for Quick Reach. “We want to be one of the greenest companies within the industry and we’re making promising progress in this regard, both as a company and at the new depot too. We accept that we are not yet a fully environmentally friendly business but we’re making serious steps in the right direction.
“I’m particularly excited to start seeing more sustainable, greener solutions everywhere: from the offices through to the sites. It’s all about continuing to change attitudes by demonstrating what’s possible. We have such a passionate team and we want this to shine through in order to make the world a better place. If we can do our little bit, then we’ll be happy.”
Quick Reach has been sure to practice what it preaches, as Bob outlines: “We look to lead by example and I personally now drive a hybrid car, which is something that was encouraged by Quick Reach. David’s even been phoning me in the evening to make sure the lights have been turned off! It’s all about fostering that environmentally-aware mindset in everything we do throughout the business. The result is that every employee has been buying into it, which has produced a wonderful atmosphere within the company.”
Once again the symbiotic relationship between Quick Reach and the Tees Valley region is clearly apparent when it comes to green issues, as Ben Houchen underlines: “The passion and drive that Quick Reach has for the environment is incredibly important and goes hand in hand with my ambitions for the region. Teesside is leading the way when it comes to greener industries of the future and net zero innovation. Cutting-edge projects like Net Zero Teesside, GE’s offshore wind blade manufacturing facility and the work we’re doing around hydrogen innovation is cementing our region’s status as ground zero for net zero, meaning we’re attracting even more green investment as a result. It’s great for us all to play our part for the environment but reaching our net zero ambitions is also creating thousands of high skilled, well paid jobs for people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.”
A really interesting initiative that is central to the ambitions that Tees Valley has in place is the Net Zero Teesside Project, which is utilising cutting edge technology such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Whereas industry in Teesside has traditionally been carbon intensive, such as its vast chemicals and processing sector, Net Zero Teesside will remove carbon from industry on Teesside and store it securely under the North Sea.
With the benefits that being a Freeport offers, the region is also seeing a growing number of businesses keen to invest in the region, such as GE, which are building offshore wind turbine blades. Investing in green technologies is really helping to bring new jobs into the area.
“You hear a lot of hot wind in politics that’s unfortunately very rarely backed up by enough action,” says David. “In contrast, within the Teesside area old derelict factories are being demolished to make way for new facilities. That’s real action and it’s wonderful to see.
“It’s amazing that Teesside is the first Freeport zone in Europe and to create the amount of jobs that we’re seeing within the region is absolutely fantastic. There’s such a buzz around the place. This forward-thinking ethos absolutely fits with our own outlook as a business, particularly in terms of our ambitions to become an ever greener company. It really is going hand-in-hand and opening the new depot was an absolute no-brainer, which is reflected by the fact that it has taken off so strongly in such a short period of time.”
As well as helping to broaden its horizons geographically, Quick Reach’s latest depot is also set to play an important role in the ongoing development of the company’s industrial services operation, as it strives to make further inroads into the likes of the petro-chem sector.
The resilience and forward progression that Quick Reach is continuing to demonstrate is all the more remarkable given that the company is still coming to terms with the loss of John Barton, David’s brother and fellow founder of the business, who sadly passed away in early 2020. “Losing John Barton was the biggest kicking that we as a family and a company could have ever had,” says David. “Thankfully we received wonderful support, both internally and externally across the wider industry. In fact, many of this support network was originally put in place by John and cultivated by him over the years.
“We really have some wonderful people and when furlough was first introduced they just wanted to get back into the business as fast as they could in order to make Quick Reach a continued success. As much as people say that it was ‘business as usual’ for construction during the pandemic, this simply wasn’t true. The first lockdown provided a wide range of different challenges from the closure of the hotels to the demands of social distancing. It is to the credit to our people that Quick Reach was able to get back to some sort of normality so quickly. I would say that 2021 was all about taking a collective deep breath as a company in order to consolidate and recover from the effects of the pandemic. Having come through that process, we want to get back to really pushing the business on, hence the development of the Teesside depot.
“One of the most pressing challenges we now have as a company centres around getting more quality people into the business. We hope that our vision, our strategy and our ideas will encourage people to want to come and work for us. We’re openly out there at the moment trying to recruit staff.”
With the new Teesside depot bedding in nicely, Quick Reach is already looking to further growth for the rest of 2022, as Bob points out: “We don’t know yet whether it will be organic growth or via the acquisition of other businesses, but there are major plans for the year ahead. Myself and David have already begun discussions about the possibility of another depot, this time in London. We’re keen to expand further but without losing the family feel that has been so important to the company’s success. We’re never going to be the biggest but then again we have no intention of being so. What we do want to be is the best at what we do.
“When David and his brother John created Quick Reach they instilled core values into the business that remain at the heart of everything we do. We have an open door policy where everybody’s ideas are there to be listened to and we all work extremely closely as a team.”
From its perspective, the Tees Valley region is also looking forward to building its relationship further with Quick Reach. “I really think 2022 will be a year of fantastic progress for construction in our region. We’re going to see spades in the ground and buildings going up,” says Ben Houchen. “I have no doubt that we will continue to be in close contact and there will be many more opportunities to collaborate in the months ahead.
“We’re looking forward to working with Quick Reach further and exploring more ways for them to become an even stronger addition to our region.”
“My message to Ben would be to just keep doing what you’re doing,” says David. “It’s so easy to knock our political leaders, quite justifiably in many cases, but it’s also important to highlight when they do things correctly too. Ben’s been great at putting his words into action and I’m looking forward to working with him going forward to achieve even more, both for ourselves and for the Teesside region. For me he’s an inspirational leader and we definitely need more of those in the current climate. You only need to see the businesses that are coming into the area and how encouraged they are by his ideas and his vision.”
While Quick Reach’s latest depot will undoubtedly serve the company well in the years ahead, the close relationship it has developed with the Tees Valley region looks like having wider benefits for both the north-east and the environment moving forward.
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