This is a difficult time to run any business connected to the construction trade, as Fergal McCamphill readily admits.
“We are trimming back and trying to keep going,” says Mr McCamphill, who runs a small Belfast plumbing firm, FM Services.
It is a familiar story in the cyclical property-based trades and has a resonance with the time Mr McCamphill set up FM Services in 1994. “It was necessity really,” he explains. “It was in the last recession in the early 90s. I had just come back home from London and there was very little work around. My father was a heating contractor and I decided to set up on my own.”
Renewable energy equipment
During the property boom, FM Services was busy not just with basic plumbing and heating engineering work, but also developed the skills to install renewable energy equipment. “With the advent of renewable heating we needed to be able to do solar panels, heating pumps and biomass boilers because of the demand that there was,” explains Mr McCamphill.
“There is not so much demand now as a couple of years ago when there were very attractive grants with new homes.” One of the strengths of FM Services was that it would include the installation of renewable heating systems as part of a package of work, reducing the number of contractors working on construction projects.
But times are now more difficult. Grants for energy efficiency and renewable energy have been cut back and the construction industry is close to collapse. The knock-on impact on FM has inevitably been bad.
Major drop off
“The new build has dropped-off dramatically,” reports Mr McCamphill. “There are still some people prepared to look at the long term, but the loss of grants has had a big impact on drop-off for renewables. There are high capital costs and not all properties are suitable. It is much easier to integrate renewable into a new build than retro fit into existing properties.”
Desperate times lead to desperate measures, including the recent loss of two of the five workers. “We have started doing anything and everything,” he says. “We have started doing bathrooms, stripping-out, tiling, electrics, any small building work and lots of maintenance and repair work. We do lots of jobs that are quite difficult to do that nobody else wants to do and don’t pay well. It’s just to keep going.”
But having started in one recession, Mr McCamphill is determined not to be undone by another.