While Hollingsworth Group has by no means been immune to the impact of the pandemic, it has not only bounced back strongly in terms of workload, but an app it began developing well before Covid-19 was known about has also had a surge of interest. This has been due to its growing range of features, some of which are ideally suited to the challenges currently being placed on construction sites.
“We’re flat out again after a dreadful period at the beginning of the pandemic when around 80% of our sites were closed for about three months, while we also had a couple of large projects that were coming to an end regardless of Covid-19,” explains Paul Hollingsworth, Managing Director. “The situation began to improve in October to the point where we’re absolutely flying again with the books full for the rest of the year. Luckily we were able to retain our core workforce, some of which have been with us for decades. Keeping this level of experience and expertise within the business has been absolutely vital to our ability to get back up to speed quickly as the amount of work available ramps up.”
In terms of sectors of the marketplace that have been proving most fruitful, residential has seen a particularly strong recovery, although it is traditionally an area that Hollingsworth Group, which is based at Sandycroft on Deeside in the north-west, was previously not too involved in. “We generally steer away from your typical spec housing and tend to focus more on the infrastructure rather than the actual housing,” outlines Paul. “We have a few infrastructure jobs in place, so that has been a key driver, and there are some nice projects on the go at the moment.”
One such project is Wirral Waters in Birkenhead, which is a major mixed-use development organised by regeneration business Peel L&P that will see the creation of 1,000 homes, as well as incorporating retail and leisure aspects. “It’s a scheme that involves the regeneration of a dock in Birkenhead. I believe it has been on the table for a number of years and after winning phase one we are hoping to stay on for the rest of the phases.
“We’re also carrying out a number of housing projects for Anwyl Homes, some of which are a bit challenging, so it is a bit specialist. We have also been involved in a sheltered housing development.
“Away from housing, we have been doing a great deal of work for Airbus, but that is obviously slowing down. We are still doing some projects for them, while we have some other new clients as well. For instance, another major project we’re currently working on is a sea defence job in Rhyl for Balfour Beatty. We have about a year left on it and it includes moving a sea wall, renewing the promenade and drainage work. Typical civils works really.”
In terms of Covid-19, Hollingsworth Group has introduced a raft of measures to keep its employees safe, with its app really coming into its own as it is ideally suited to a pandemic situation, as Paul outlines: “With the app there’s less reliance on pens and paperwork, which obviously helps in terms of reducing the possibility of virus transmission. For example, we did a project for Airbus before Christmas and they didn’t want to see any paper or pens onsite so our app was ideal as all the information could be easily accessed on it. Digitalisation was well on the rise before but the pandemic has served to accelerate this upward trend.
“We’re also able to instantly update the app with the very latest health and safety information. This is vital at a time when the picture is changing so rapidly. We can store all of our health and safety documents and policies on one central hub on the platform. Information can then be instantly updated whenever new guidance comes through from the HSE. With the rate of information about Covid-19 changing all the time, this facility is proving invaluable in getting the latest best practice to site managers and operatives. It means we don’t have to rely on some of my managers sending the documentation out via email or even in paper form. Instead, whenever new information is downloaded to the app everyone gets a notification on their phone. It’s reassuring to know that everyone is operating with the most up-to-date information.”
While the app was actually first developed in early 2019, well before the challenges of Covid came into play, the challenges of the pandemic mean it is increasingly proving invaluable. Originally it was conceived with the intention of overcoming some of the typical issues associated with working on a construction site. From the initial idea it snowballed with new features continually being added to the extent that Hollingsworth Group has now invested £200,000 on the platform and created a new software company dedicated to its development called Fusion Interactive Technologies.
“When we set out to build Fusion two years ago we found that the process took longer than we originally envisaged because of the adaptations the app underwent,” says Paul. “It has therefore grown from a basic health and safety app into a fully blown digital management system that can be used for a whole range of documentation control.
“A tremendous amount of work has gone into the development of the app and most recently we have launched a new e-learning platform that has been designed to improve operational efficiency and streamline processes using industry best practices. It is ideal for companies looking to upskill their employees and motivate them to develop their careers.”
Two individuals who have played a key role at Fusion Interactive Technologies are Jac Hollingsworth, a Principal Management and Technology Consultant, and his close school friend, George Daly, founder of the Chester-based digital agency, Coax Creative. They have taken the original Hollingsworth app and developed it into a versatile, multi-layered, interactive web-based management dashboard and mobile app for employees, which is even available on tablet. The aim now is to capitalise on the strengths of the app and increase sales of licenses to the market.
“We started selling licenses to the platform last November,” says Paul. “While there’s been significant interest, we have been hamstrung somewhat from a marketing perspective by the restrictions of the lockdown. We were booked into London ExCeL this year and the Health and Safety exhibition but they were cancelled. However, Fusion will be exhibiting at Excel during July 2021 and we have got some really good connections having received excellent support from various parties including Cardiff University, who are investing development time in the platform. They are going to develop some virtual reality training for Fusion so they gave us their top tech team for four months. They developed some tech that isn’t currently out there so we can integrate that into Fusion. We have got some great traction and we are doing quite a lot of demos via Teams, which is fine but it is much better when you can do them face-to-face with people. At the moment we are mainly selling them to our supply chain so hopefully we can start getting that out properly and commence the marketing campaign fully.”
With the app really starting to get noticed and demand increasing, Paul moved his daughter Gemma, who had previously worked on the health and safety side of Hollingsworth Group, over to Fusion. Paul himself is also spending an increasing amount of time on the Fusion side of things. “It’s been interesting getting involved in tech, which is an area I previously hadn’t had much experience of. It’s always good to learn new things and I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve become interested in tech!”
With the dual-edge approach of Fusion and Hollingsworth Group both demonstrating strong prospects for the future, the aim for the rest of the year is to keep the momentum going. “The main body of the company has secured some new Blue Chip clients so we are currently focusing on forming relationships with them in order to win repeat business,” says Paul. “Shaun has also been busy for the last few years building a significant amount of industrial property, all of which has been successfully let out. In terms of what’s next, we are in negotiations to buy more land in North Wales on another industrial estate and will be developing another 60,000 sq ft of High end industrial units to let.
“With regards to Fusion, the plan is to roll it out and grow into as many markets as we can. We are building a new e-learning centre in our office because the pandemic has obviously made it quite difficult to get into the classroom for courses to take place. Construction is going digital and while the pace of change is slow, it is definitely getting there.”
Another element of the Hollingsworth Group, its construction arm, Hollingsworth Ellery, has extended its blue chip client portfolio with successful projects both being completed and underway across the UK in the likes of Filton, Leek, Droitwich, Bridgewater, and more locally, in Manchester, Broughton and Ellesmere Port.
With the roadmap to recovery set in place and normality hopefully not too far away, it is clear that Hollingsworth Group, Hollingsworth Ellery and Fusion Interactive Technologies have every reason to look forward with confidence as the contracts keep coming in and interest in the app continues to rise. Paul and Shaun Hollingsworth co-founded the company in 1988 and it’s in a stronger position now than ever before.