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William Anelay shares secrets of 266 years in business

Restoration specialist William Anelay was founded in 1747 and knows a fair bit about the construction industry and surviving a recession.

When Charles Anelay joined the business in 1985, he became the eighth generation of the family to work at the company where he is now chairman.

“We do have a pretty amazing history: William Anelay started in Doncaster in 1747 and became one of the main builders in the town up to the early 1900s,” he says.

“We built one of the stands at the racecourse, as well as the Market Hall. One of my ancestors even has a street named after him.”

Three stages of development

The company went from a traditional construction firm to doing more work on existing buildings, which became its specialism; now the business is in the third stage of its development.

“We still directly employ stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters and joiners, leadworkers, and other trade skills,” Mr Anelay says. “We take on apprentices and support training initiatives.

“But we also act on much larger projects in more of a management role with a smaller team of our own guys involved. We have offices in York, Manchester and Kendal and regularly operate across the area from the north Midlands upwards.”

Surviving a recession

Having a long and successful history does not make the company recession-proof, but it does give the business some experience in surviving when times are tough.

“I guess we’re finding business much the same as everyone else – pretty demanding and fiercely competitive”

Charles Anelay, William Anelay

“I guess we’re finding business much the same as everyone else – pretty demanding and fiercely competitive,” he says. “We are very fortunate in having a good team of people working with us, and they have put in a lot of effort to help keep us moving forward.

“We have been around for a very long time and we all want to make sure that we keep going forward.”

The company is no longer just owned by the Anelay family: it is split three ways, but the other owners also have family members working in the business.

“Tony and Tim both have members of their family working for us, so there is a certain continuity in atmosphere and style,” he says. “What this means in practice is that we hope all our jobs have a similar flavour to them.”

Increasing turnover through management

In the past year, William Anelay has increased its turnover from £13 million to around £24m, mainly through winning a number of larger project management jobs that have had a significant impact on turnover.

“Strategically, we felt that it was important to try and seize good opportunities as they came up, because we were unclear as to where the market might go next,” Mr Anelay says.

Some current projects include a sensitive repair scheme at Middleport Pottery in Stoke for Prince Charles’ Regeneration Trust; major reordering and reflooring schemes at Wakefield and Sheffield cathedrals; and altering and extending a private house in North Yorkshire.

“We’ve recently finished a community-led regeneration development of the Florence Institute in Liverpool that is up for a Civic Trust award and was recently visited by Prince Charles,” he says.

Importance of experience

Restoration projects require a totally different skillset to new build, Mr Anelay notes, stressing the importance of experience. “You have to respect the buildings and try to work with what is already there,” he says.

“Being big enough to cope and small enough to care is what we are trying to achieve”

Charles Anelay, William Anelay

“There is always uncertainty, so decision-making needs close management and solutions need developing as the work proceeds. “The underlying issue is often who carries the risk and how it is managed. Experience of how to handle these issues counts for a lot.”

When looking at how a business such as William Anekay survives, size is everything. “It might sound like corporate nonsense, but being big enough to cope and small enough to care is what we are trying to achieve,” he says.

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