Demolition Environmental Enabling Civil Engineering Plant Hire

Meet the MD - Simon Barlow, Rye Demolition

- 10/02/22

Simon Barlow is the Managing Director and Founder of Rye Demolition. He is also the former Chairman of the London and Southern Counties region of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) and the current Vice Chairman of the National Demolition Training Group (NDTG).

Simon – you set up Rye Plant Hire in 1994 but the company is now called Rye Demolition. What’s the story?

I set Rye Plant Hire up initially as I noticed the requirement of many demolition contractors to obtain plant and machinery on a short-term basis. I had established some great relationships in the industry and felt that I had an opportunity to start my own venture and support an obvious need in the market.

I’d started out in the industry as a machine operator and progressed from there with exposure to different parts of demolition, so I had a good understanding of how programmes ran. So, after a good while of building up the plant hire business and building those relationships with both demolition contractors and developers I teamed up with my colleague Andy Hopkins to expand Rye Plant Hire into Rye Demolition and Plant Hire.

Knowing the industry as I did, I was missing out on the cut and thrust of demolition itself so, with a fleet already established, we were well placed to start supplying demolition services.

From humble beginnings……

We started small but built some brilliant relationships that led to repeat business with new challenges. Over a number of years we proved our capability and willingness to address challenges in a collaborative and professional way, never cutting corners.

This approach has been the foundation of the organisation and I’m delighted that it has led to us establishing long standing relationships with some of the most well recognised developers in the country and to us working on some very exciting, prestigious and challenging projects.

I have always been committed to us improving how we operate and how we impact everyone we work with and this has really continued right up to the present day. We now have a philosophy in place to cement this commitment in a way that we couldn’t have imagined all those years ago when the business was established.

It’s been a fulfilling, exciting and challenging journey but very rewarding. Seeing the business grow and people develop has been amazing, as has the opportunity to be involved in projects that truly transform local areas, leading to new and vibrant communities that create fresh opportunities for local residents and businesses.

I count myself very lucky.

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What is most important to you about how Rye Demolition is run?

I am far more interested in executing our projects the right way, rather than taking on a huge number of projects, growing and losing the focus on quality, service and integrity. We have some brilliant clients and I love how we work so closely with them. There is a real bond of trust and partnership, not a transactional relationship, and that is how I want Rye to operate.

I take great satisfaction from the fact that we continue working some of the same clients year on year, because it demonstrates that we are doing things well and building that trust.

Social values are important to me in this regard too and they are central to how we operate. We live and breathe our Sustainable Standard philosophy, which holds us accountable in making a positive impact wherever we work in several ways.

The Sustainable Standard comprises five pillars and under each pillar we have an array of initiatives to ensure we are continually improving. Those pillars are Health & Safety, Environmental, Quality, People and Community.

Filling fuel tanker with HVO fuel

Can you expand on your environmental efforts?

Like many of the people reading this, I have children and grandchildren. I am greatly concerned about the future of the planet and the state of the world that they will grow up in. As a business owner I am also in the fortunate position of being able to make an above average difference to the challenge of climate change and feel very privileged to be able to do so.

Fundamentally demolition projects require extensive use of plant and machinery, which has run on diesel historically. Without doubt this is our biggest source of carbon emissions.

As a company we have always invested in the latest machinery with the most efficient engines available. We have also kept our eyes open for new technologies and innovations. Unfortunately, electric plant is, in my opinion, still some way off being viable for large demolition projects but we look forward to the day when we can make it work.

In the meantime however, we have been looking at alternative fuels and were delighted to be the first demolition company to swap our entire diesel fleet of road and site plant and machinery to HVO Green D+. This is a fuel that is made of used cooking oil with an additive that, in combination, reduces carbon emissions by up to 90%.

Having committed to 600,000 litres of HVO over the next 12 months we believe we will be eliminating over 1,700 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere. As the fuel is made of used cooking oil, it also represents an additional benefit of giving a second life to a product manufactured for another purpose.

On top of our switch to HVO we are continually investing in new machinery to improve our already excellent re-use and recycling rates.

These are some short-term wins but we know that the road to carbon neutrality is not a one year project and so we have signed up to the SME Climate Hub and Climate Pledge that makes us part of a community of businesses committed to achieving net zero by 2040, ten years ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement target. That said, we harbour ambitions to achieve net zero sooner than that.

We will shortly be conducting a carbon audit of the organisation and developing a comprehensive and wide-ranging carbon reduction plan so we can be sure that we’re doing all we can to leave the earth in a better state for future generations.

What are your favourite types of project?

I guess it depends on how you classify favourite. For me, my favourite is based more on the impact it is going to have on an area. We have worked on some really high-profile programmes of work on iconic buildings and they have been interesting and challenging. That said, some of the most rewarding have been where we’ve been involved in transforming an area in serious need of regeneration for the community.

We are currently working in Aldershot where the local council are championing and leading a programme of regeneration. The town has many tired, dilapidated and vacated commercial properties that are preventing a vibrant centre from developing.

The local shopping centre, The Galleries, is a 1990s build but has sat empty for 8 or 9 years taking up valuable real estate that could contribute to economic growth and resident well-being.

We were contracted by Hill Group to demolish a site on Union Street in Aldershot for onward development and by Shaviram group to work on The Galleries. Both sites are next to each other, and our work is creating the blank canvas for a new town centre that serves the community.

It is this kind of work that excites me the most, by way of what it will lead to.

Link Bridge Aldershot - Demolition

You’ve been Vice Chairman of the NDTG for a year now, what have you seen and learned and what do you hope to achieve over the coming year with the group?

I’ve always been a passionate advocate of training, having benefited so much from my early career investment by my first employer and so applying to become the Vice Chairman of the NDTG felt like a natural step to take.

The first year has been interesting, still impacted by Covid of course but there has been much conversation about the continual development of staff across the industry and also eliminating fraudulent cards, a topic that was hotly debated at the Demo Expo in September.

I am really keen to ensure that the message is heard loud and clear that the future of our industry depends on existing staff taking up training opportunities and building career plans. I also want us to be talking about how we train the next generation of demolition professionals and upskill people from different backgrounds such as the military.

The wider community is a hotbed of talent and, as a sector, we need to tap into that and provide the development opportunities to fuel the future pipeline of talent that will drive the industry on.

The final area I will be discussing with my NDTG colleagues is that of behavioural safety. Technical health and safety training is wide-spread and mandatory, but this doesn’t eliminate human error. We must look at ways in which we can transform mindsets and equip people with the attitudes and thought processes that reduce those behavioural mistakes that can lead to catastrophic errors.

What is your vision for the future of Rye Demolition?

It’s very simple really – to continue delivering excellence in demolition, to set the Sustainable Standard in demolition. By that, I don’t just mean environmentally sustainable, but sustainable in every sense of how we impact on society.

Clients, communities and individuals should be better of having chosen to work with Rye.

We will continue fostering positive relationships with existing clients and working with new clients where the opportunities arise but our goal is not to be the biggest, taking on hundreds of projects, rather it is to do what we do to the absolute highest standard.

We will continue to offer the supporting services outside of core demolition to make the process for our clients easier, smoother and more efficient but we have no ambitions to expand beyond those services such as remediation, ground-works, enabling and so on to become a jack of all trades.

The future for Rye is in focused excellence.

Local Labour Team at Work

What do you think it going to be hot in the world of demolition over the coming couple of years?

Very simply, two things – environment and talent.

The recognition of the need to reduce the environmental impact made by companies across industries has only increased in recent months and years – this will not subside.

Legislation has always been tightening around matters such as vehicle emissions and, in a more niche context, June 2021 saw the introduction of new public procurement rules, requiring carbon audits and reduction plans for all public sector contracts over £5m. This threshold will only come down, as will the requirement to move beyond public sector contracts.

Expect to see the pressure from private sector contracts increase, not only through legislative requirements, but also the increasing focus that developers are placing on their social impact.

We are well placed to address this changing landscape and the industry as a whole needs to respond too.

The second matter of talent is increasingly challenging too. Following Brexit and throughout Covid, many European workers returned to their native countries, resulting in a reduced pool of talent. Job vacancies are at their highest levels for a long time, which creates a great opportunity for those who are out of work, but a challenge for many organisations seeking to find ready made talent.

As a company we have always been eager to develop existing staff and bring in new trainees and apprentices. This is going to be more important over the coming years as fewer young people are entering the industry.

We are keen to continue our recruitment of trainees and also to reach out to untapped talent pools like the forces. We have already recruited members of the military and they bring amazing talent and mindsets that are well suited. Any contractor ignoring this area is missing out and it means that so much experience is not wasted.

We need to be creative about bringing talent into the industry, as it isn’t a career that people tend to grow up thinking about.

Tell us a bit about Simon, the man away from work?

Away from work? What’s that?!

I am only joking of course, my time away is really important, as the working week is so intense with so many moving parts.

I enjoy cooking and spending time with my grand children. With family spread around the country I spend time going around visiting them and very often my youngest daughter who lives in Chester comes to stay so we have great days out doing all the things that teenagers do.

The BBQ gets used a great deal over the summer and I love nothing more than having friends and family over, serving some food and supping a Corona in the sun!

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