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The future is coming up roses

In the final of a three-part profile, Gary Bricknell, owner of the Northamptonshire-based Mosaic Restoration Company, tells CFJ his story. This month he turns to Brexit, sustainability and health and safety.

LIVING a life that some would cry out for, Gary Bricknell runs the Mosaic Restoration Company from a base in Northamptonshire. Established in 1998, the company seems to be in fine fettle occupying an envious position where it has an order book that’s two years out.

In previous issues, CFJ took time to understand Gary in terms of how he came into the trade. Now it’s time to examine his views on Brexit, sustainability, and health and safety.

Brexit and the war in Ukraine are two topics addressed by Gary, and in particular, whether they’ve made it harder or more expensive to get hold of materials.

On Ukraine Gary says the impact has been negligible. However, Brexit is another matter entirely. He highlights the fact the company imports raw materials mainly from Italy and some from France.

‘So, what happened is that before I’d order materials from Carrara in Italy, and because I’ve known these companies for years orders would arrive in about four to six weeks. Now I place an order and it has to go through an agent. It then sits in customs and I have to pay the VAT up front; VAT is a pain.’ So, yes, Brexit’s impact on Gary is very real – it’s doubled the lead time to obtain materials and requires VAT to be paid sooner.

Sustainability speaking
Onto a key topic for the modern world, sustainability, it’s fair to question how Gary manages this and whether he is seeing new products coming that are better for the environment.

Thankfully Gary reports there are new and more sustainable products filtering through. He says ‘there are always changes and the world is constantly evolving, but I think it’s down to us to make sure that we’re fully au fait with them’.

To this he adds that ‘I think that’s what makes us a little bit unusual is the fact most of our work is restoration work. We work with old salvage materials and use old techniques; we might be using lime mortar and materials like that. We’re obliged to use traditional techniques and methods. And if you’re talking about environmental impact and cost saving, then we are pretty proactive’.

On top of that Gary says the workshop in Daventry is looking at placing solar panels on its roof. Also, he says the company recycles everything it can and has engaged a company to segregate everything that can be reused: ‘We’re very hot on this and the guys with me are the same – because that’s part of the company ethos.’

As for clients specifying sustainability over the right job at the right price, Gary says some will do: ‘What’s interesting, for example, is a big job at Manchester Town Hall. We’re there for two years and there are contractual obligations in terms of sustainability and also social engagement – we have to meet certain criteria and that’s a good thing.’

While he reckons any company, big or small, can ‘follow’ the rules, he likes to honour the requirements for several reasons, not least of which is that it means ‘we get the job’.

Health and safety management
Given that the Mosaic Restoration Company is in the construction sector health and safety is high up on Gary’s agenda. He says that as for any other contractor, ‘we’ve got to be very careful: We write risk assessments and method statements, we’re Constructionline Gold accredited which is the highest we can get. We take health and safety very seriously’.

He says his operatives have passed the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, have asbestos awareness certificates, wear facemasks, and most are first aid trained. Nevertheless, he says ‘while we’re pretty good on health and safety it’s a challenge because we’re using old materials and old techniques’.

Gary then refers to a machine that looks like a drill-cum-lathe on end with a chisel inserted that points downwards. In explaining what it does he says it’s a fly press from the boot and shoe industry which has been adapted to be a mechanical hammer and hardie.

In detail, he says: ‘It’s effectively a hammer with an inverted chisel. The operative holds a mosaic tile which is hit with the chisel.’

He warns: ‘Those searching online for a hammer and hardie will find images that make them ask ‘is that going to take the top of your fingers off if you miss’? But what we did we was to adapt a fly press so we don’t need as much mechanical effort and so can hold the mosaic tile in a hand without swinging a hammer around; actually, it’s the safest way of carrying out that manual cutting of marble predominantly or glass’.

And to manage dust particles from cutting, Gary says he’s acquired and deployed four air cubes as well as masks: ‘We’ve got extractors but we use air cubes so that when we’re cutting we would put these air cubes next to where we’re working. They’re really clever – they suck the air in and scrub it down to 0.002 microns, then chuck out clean air.’

To finish
From what Gary has said, it very much looks like the world is looking very rosy at the moment for the Mosaic Restoration Company. With plenty of work and booking two years ahead, the only thing he really seems to need to worry about is getting the right people on board to help him complete projects.

Gary fully recognises he’s lucky and appreciates he’s in a niche market. But it’s taken him a long time to get to where he’s with the required skills he and others have picked up along the way. In parting, Gary says: ‘We are, compared to other trades, very fortunate. But what I will say is I’m only as good as my last job – if something goes wrong then that’s it for me and I’m aware of that; that’s quite a risk. My reputation is very important to me.’

But since the company has received numerous awards over the years including ‘Excellence in Contract Tiling’ from The Tile Association, and in 2018, the Sussex Heritage Award for mosaic works to Hastings Library as well as – for Gary – ‘Master Craftsman Wall and Floor Tiler’ from ‘The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers’ in the same year, it’s safe to say his company’s future is assured.

And with a nod to where Gary works, we’ll say ‘amen to that’.

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