A family firm, which has been building and renovating landmark properties in Hull and East Yorkshire for more than 140 years is streamlining its business in readiness for embarking on new projects worth more than £20m.
Houlton, whose projects include Hymers College built in 1893 and a series of modern secondary school improvements carried out as part of Hull Esteem Consortium, is to consolidate its construction division into its building and maintenance division.
The firm’s directors say the move is expected to result in the loss of up to nine jobs but will bring benefits for the wider workforce of around 130 and improve profitability. The decision comes after several years of construction sector challenges compounded by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Richard Houlton, Life President of the company which was founded in 1879, said: “Job losses are regrettable, but we have kept them to a minimum and we are confident that these steps will help us improve the profitability and continued longevity of the business moving forward.
“We are busy and expect to be busier, with exciting new projects and repeat business from longstanding clients. By merging two divisions into one and cutting back on some of the overheads we will create a more streamlined company that looks towards the future.”
Mr Houlton said costs have been a concern in the construction sector for some time, even before the economic uncertainty of the Brexit referendum caused the cancellation of some large-scale projects. More recently supply chain and customs issues post-Brexit have interrupted deliveries of materials, resulting in some delays on site.
Covid brought fresh problems in March 2020 with the closure of most sites including delays in re-roofing council houses for East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) because occupiers had to stay at home.
But by July 2020 Houlton had about 80 per cent of its staff safely back at work, having initially furloughed around 90 per cent. The company has managed to continue construction work during the second and third lockdowns and has been able to deliver high quality, noteworthy projects under extremely tough conditions, with a forward order book worth more than £20m.
Having completed several projects for Hull Esteem under a Partnering Service Agreement, including the refurbishment of the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and the renovation of Trinity Market, Houlton has also manufactured the steel, timber and glass for The Vigil art-project. This cabin is giving 730 people the opportunity, one at a time, to watch sunrise and sunset over the city of Hull from a vantage point on top of Hull College.
Houlton recently completed the £7m Sandburn Hall Hotel near York and the company is now on site at the new ERYC Beverley Business Centre, a £4m project at Grovehill due for completion later this year.
Following the successful delivery of projects for Hull Esteem at St Mary’s College and Kelvin Hall School – worth a total of £7.8m – Houlton have received new project requests for the expansion of two more secondary schools in Hull, with work due to start in December for completion September 2022 at a total cost of £6m.
Having completed the renovation of the inside of Hull Minster in 2018, Houlton will return to the historic property to build a £1.7m extension on South Church Side. Another heritage project was the completion last year of a beautifully landscaped new garden at The Hepworth Wakefield Garden.
Recent new projects to start include a £1.7m veterinary practice at Bridlington and a £500,000 scheme for Wykeland at Flemingate in Beverley to build an education facility for disabled young adults transitioning into life skills.
Houlton is also in discussions with Hull City Council about the renovation of Brunswick Arcade on Beverley Road, Hull.
In addition, a Fire Protection Division, set up by Houlton in January this year, has secured a £4m contract from ERYC to install and maintain fire doors over the next four years.
Mr Houlton said: “This restructuring will allow us to run a more agile organisation that can adapt and react to our clients’ needs in an ever-changing marketplace. These changes will continue to deliver the high quality of work our reputation demands, on time and at a level that is commercially sustainable.
“As well as the 130 people directly employed by the business, we provide work for many sub-contractors, most of them based within 30 miles of our office. We also hope to increase the opportunities for apprentices and continue our support for communities and organisations throughout the city, and surrounding areas.