by Ian Ball, HCS Safety Director
18 years ago this October, Zoë and Ian started working together in the health and safety sector.
Early on we had relatively few clients and we often answered “yes we can…” as soon as the words “can you…” were asked by someone. Often before we knew what they wanted. We would undertake any work that we thought would help us grow and get noticed. Zoë joined contractors on a sponsored week which was covered in the local news. Ian was often asked when he would get a proper job.
The first few years were quite tough, working from when we got up until we had done everything that we could think of for that day. We worked from our respective homes, the smallest bedroom, or the back room, with Zoë graduating to the garage (with heating) when she moved house. We tried to speak to each other each day to see how the other was doing, but often only saw one another once per week to catch up.
Training was carried out by Zoë using the local village hall or sports venue. Carting everything she needed there; food, drink, crockery and training aids, and then packing them all away at the end of the training session after washing up etc.
A few years went by and our client base started to grow, most of whom we still know very well today. We realised that we had two of most things – printers, scanners, fax machines etc. Training was becoming a bit tedious for Zoë with all the side work that went into the training day. I did use to offer to help if I was around…
We decided to look for premises.
18 months later we finally moved into Chevron Business Park. This was 2000 sq ft over two floors. One floor was a training room and breakout area, the other floor was for staff – Zoë and Ian. We bought the building on a mortgage and things were very tight after we moved in, only two of us and money was so tight that we didn’t use the heating system, choosing to share a fan heater under the desk.
One thing we didn’t share was the task of the accounts for the company. Ian always thought that it was such a drudge dreary job that he couldn’t ask Zoë to participate, there are limits. When the company finally broke free of excel and started using Sage, that was it. Game over, far too complicated to get involved. When Sage started to complain that too many errors were being made, Sara joined the company. Then there were three of us.
With a dedicated training room that could be left set up, we started to increase our training days. The site visits to construction sites also increased and we took on other staff to cover this work. With the increase in staff we then found out what it was like to be an employer; with one person who was due to start turning down the position the day before they were due to start. This was after we had bought the car, mobile ‘phone, laptop and mobile printer (remember those, what a headache it was at getting them to print).
A few years went by and our staff level was increasing. We had a few office refurbishments in order to accommodate all the staff, but the day came when we had to have more space, so we took the ground floor over of the office next door. We were a few yards apart, but it may as well have been a mile. Even though we had one printer for all to use so we still saw each other at those times, it felt as if there were two different companies. We had to move to bigger premises.
18 months later we moved to where we are today, occupying two floors in a building with three. It took a long time as we needed to find premises with ample parking spaces for all of our clients attending training courses. At Holbury we managed to pack cars in tighter than the ferries crossing the Solent. The floors we took over needed a total makeover, we stripped everything back to basics and fitted it out. Three classrooms, a large welcoming breakout area for delegates and a staff area that we could all fit into comfortably. Plus, we had a kitchen with a cooker. We could now indulge in Friday Fry-ups without going to a takeaway.
We still continued to grow and we had by now diversified away from construction activities to include boatbuilding, manufacturing, leisure, estates, insurance, nail bars, and the European Weather Centre! Our staff were undertaking and passing the top NEBSOH course in health and safety – The Diploma, so we needed to ensure that their new skills were utilised fully.
After we had been at Millbrook Road West for three years, Zoë and Ian realised that space was getting tight, and that an additional classroom would be helpful to cover training course expansion. The tenant on the ground floor moved out, and once again we went in and stripped everything out to put in the best that we could afford. Our administration staff moved to the ground floor, but we were determined to try to make sure that staff still mixed in with each other and had regular conversations.
Each year in March we have a Membership Annual Forum. For quite a few years we have hired the Concorde Club at Eastleigh, a lovely friendly venue. Unfortunately this year we found out that we had outgrown it, and hence next year we will be at the Hilton Ageas Bowl in the ballroom. Plenty of space and parking there.
For almost a year now an Operations Manager has been gradually taking over areas that were covered by the Directors, leaving them more time to find new clients and engage with existing ones. The building is about to have new windows, more space for cars to park, and a new bespoke CRM software package so that our training delegates and clients can be served better.
We couldn’t have achieved all this without tremendous support from all our staff.
So maybe it is a proper job after all.