We had hoped to celebrate our Golden Anniversary with a big party at Wymondham Rugby Club on 18th July 2020, but of course the Coronavirus Emergency has ruined those plans, and this has had to be cancelled. We were of course going to make a combined speech that celebrated the company’s history on the day and that opportunity too has therefore disappeared.

So, we thought that we would deliver the speech in writing instead, and so here is what we would have said;-

The Early Years

On Tuesday 21st July 2020 Pruce Newman will have been trading for 50 years, as it was on Tuesday 21st July 1970 that our fathers John Pruce and Brian Newman, signed the partnership agreement that officially got Pruce Newman up and running as pipework contractors.

It was nearly another three years later that the partnership transformed to become Pruce Newman Pipework Ltd on Tuesday 1st May 1973, and the trading company that we know today was born.

When John and Brian set up their partnership on Graham’s 4th birthday, all those years ago, the country was being led by Ted Heath, we had yet to convert to decimalisation (so early cash pay packets were still paid out in pounds, shillings and pence) and Richard Nixon was in the Whitehouse, as nobody had even heard of Watergate. We are fairly certain that they would have struggled to believe that the company that they were forming, would be continuing to prosper well into the 21st century, with their sons still leading the business, but looking forward to leaving it in the capable hands of others, as they looked towards their own retirements.

The company was born out of the decision by Samuel Hodge Ltd to close its Hodge Pipework Ltd trading division, for whom John Pruce and Brian Newman both worked. John and Brian were fortunate that Hodge Pipework Ltd were happy to allow them to take over and complete a number of contracts that they had ongoing at the time and allow them to purchase their plant and equipment to complete those contracts.

Early clients included London and Coastal Oil Wharves Ltd (now Oikos Storage Ltd) at their sites at Canvey Island and Dagenham in Essex, May & Baker Ltd (initially just at their Dagenham East site), Loders & Nucoline Ltd in Silvertown (part of the Unilever empire but closed in 1995), Van Den Berghs & Jurgens Ltd at their Purfleet site (again part of the Unilever empire but now split between ADM Pura Foods Ltd and Upfield Spreads UK Ltd), Erith Oil Works Ltd (now ADM Erith Ltd part of the ADM UK Ltd group) and Ford Motor Co Ltd, at their Dagenham site.

The business was initially registered at John Pruce’s family home in South Ockendon, Essex and contracts grew to include work at Tilbury B and West Thurrock power stations, working for British Gas’ Industrial and Commercial division in Colchester and the Thermos manufacturing plant in Brentwood, Essex.

So, from our earliest beginnings we have worked across a number of industries, including the Oil and Gas, Energy, Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Food and Manufacturing sectors.

As the company became established and proved its credentials as a trusted supplier to its clients, we were approached by May & Baker Ltd to find out if we’d be interested in quoting for work at its Norwich plant, on Sweet Briar Road, as they were struggling to source suitable contractors. John Pruce led this spearhead into Norfolk and was soon winning work in May & Baker’s Norwich site and also won a large contract to assist Thermos in moving its Brentwood production facility, up to Thetford in Norfolk.

The Move to Norfolk

It soon became apparent that inland Norfolk was lacking in skilled pipework engineering companies, with the knowledge to support its growing industrial sector, as we found that work at May & Baker grew rapidly, despite initially mainly utilising staff from the Essex area, with the added costs that this involved. So, in 1974 John Pruce took the brave step of moving his family up to Wymondham and was followed up the A12, by the company’s labour supervisor John Coughlan.

It was in 1974 that we leased the building that is now our registered office, but was originally workshop, stores and offices and we have operated from this Ayton Road site ever since.

Work in Norfolk and Suffolk accelerated rapidly, and we soon added Colman’s Foods of Norwich, ICI paints of Stowmarket and Dow Chemical of King’s Lynn, to our growing list of clients and have worked on those sites ever since (unfortunately the Colman and Dow sites are shortly to shut).

Barry Edwards joined the company in 1978 as a Contracts Engineer, helping John Pruce to look after the clients in and around Norfolk and Suffolk, whilst Brian Newman continued to look after clients in the South East, working from his home in Horndon-On-The-Hill in Essex and spending 2 days a week in Norfolk, looking after our King’s Lynn clients and conducting meetings in Wymondham.

The Loss of a Founder

In 1981, just 11 years after the company was first formed, it endured a massive blow, when John Pruce suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving Shirley Pruce widowed, with a relatively young family.

Barry Edwards stepped up to the plate in supporting Brian and Shirley to keep the company going and took on a managerial role, working alongside new contracts engineers like Bob Buntin and Glen Wilson, along with trusted office staff, like John Tanner, Norman Day, John Beddingfeld , Brenda Jay and the aforementioned John Coughlan, who all had long term careers with the company.

Growth in the 80s and 90s

Brian Newman spent more time in Norfolk, and in 1984 Graham Newman joined the company. Having completed a period of pipefitting and welding training, followed by a short time working on the tools, Graham headed into the office, to assist with the running of contracts in the South East. It was not long before Alan Pruce followed a similar path into the business, to assist in the office at Wymondham and look after contracts in and around Norwich.

The company continued to grow through the 1980’s and we added British Sugar to our client list, along with organisations such as Anglian Water, BXL Plastics (now Zotefoams Plc) of Croydon, Baxter Healthcare, Bernard Matthews, Johnson Matthey at Brimsdown and Royston, Lotus Cars, Norfolk Property Services, Porvair, Wymondham Oil Storage Co (now Goff Petroleum) and many other companies, for whom we’ve worked on and off, over the last 30 plus years.

Barry Edwards accepted a directorship in the early 1980’s and became Managing Director when Brian Newman retired in the early 1990’s, leading the company for the next 20 years. In this period, we also had a branch office in Birmingham in the late 80’s and early 90’s, managed by Glen Wilson, working mainly in the manufacturing sectors around the midlands. Unfortunately, this was not as successful as we would have hoped, and the branch was shut in the recession of the early 90s.

 In 1990 Tim Moorse joined the company to assist with the development of work in the South East and quickly moved up through the ranks to become Southern Area Manager, when the Southern office relocated from Brian Newman’s house to an industrial unit in Basildon. This allowed Graham Newman to become more involved with the Head Office, via the Projects and Workshop divisions and become a Director in 1995, along with Alan Pruce.

A new millennium and the development of the Senior Management Team

In 2001 Tim took the opportunity to move his family up to Norfolk and manage the Projects and Workshop divisions and accept a directorship, which he did very successfully.

Darren Razzell joined the company in 1999, for the first of his two periods of employment with the company, the second of which started in 2011 when he re-joined the business as a Projects Manager. Darren became a Divisional Manager and joined the Senior Management Team in 2016, before being offered and accepting, a directorship in 2017.

Jamie Key also joined the company, for the first of his two periods of employment in 1999 and re-joined as a craftsman welder in 2005, before becoming a site agent for the company at Dungeness Nuclear Power Plant and coming into the office shortly afterwards. Like Darren Razzell, Jamie soon rose to Divisional Manager before joining the Senior Management Team in 2016, and being offered and accepting, a directorship in 2017.

The company is rightly very proud of its family business ethos and longevity and is very happy that we have been able to provide long term careers, for so many people, over the past 50 years. It is also proud that it provides staff with the potential for development, to rise up within the business, as witnessed by Jamie Key’s meteoric rise to Director status and by Dave Todd, who joined the company in 1984 as a semi-skilled operative, worked through the trade skills and ranks to Chargehand and then moved into the office to become Labour Manager (replacing John Coughlan when he retired). Dave also joined the Senior Management Team, when it was formed in 2016 to help the directors develop the strategic direction of the business, along with Ange Gare, the Accounts/ Admin Manager, Keith Dixon the QA/QC Compliance Manager and latterly Gavin Graham, the company’s new Health & Safety and Environmental Compliance Manager.

The contributors to the story

Leading players that have helped to develop the business, and who have come and gone (and some who have sadly passed away) over the years, other than those that we have already mentioned include:

Phil Alway, Phil Barnes, Dave Blackshaw, Danny Chiswick, Darren Clubb, Chris Cootes, Terry Edwards, Ron Fitzgerald, Barry Friend, Kenny Fryman, Peter Goodman, Paul Hayhoe, Adrian Hunter, Keith Hunter, Keith Johns, Roy Jones, John Kerrison, David Leonard, Graham Lock, Ian McKenzie, Andy Messant, David Newitt, Trevor Parnell, Trevor Peacock, Mick Rainbird, Dave Robinson, Steve Sharp, Adrian Sheard, Tony Skyring, Pat Sinnott, Alfie Smith, Derek Smith, Peter Smith, Steve Skipper and Billy Walpole. All of these guys worked on the tools for the business for many years and helped develop its reputation for high quality, safe work, delivered by giving the best possible service to our clients.

We also had many staff who completed long careers in the offices, and these include:

Steve Cleveland, Mick Duke, Viv Edwards, Barry Kay, Marilyn Medcraft, Charles Smalley and Ken Townsend, plus Chris Bone and Richard Smith, who worked both on site and in the office.

This tradition for employees serving long careers with the company continues to this day and we currently have over 75% of our 90 PAYE staff who have served 5 years or more with the business and the current long service hall of fame includes;-

John Tanner & Geoff Kirk – 38 years, Dave Todd & Graham Newman – 36 years, Alan Pruce – 34 years, Kevin Fitzgerald, Graeme Terry & Chris Snowdon – 32 years, Tim Moorse – 30 years, Kevin England, Colin Roberts, Will Emmett, Mark Blaxter & Jon Edwards – 27 years, Mark Taylor – 25 years, Alan Page, Clive Fulcher, Phil Hoy & Jason Cootes – 23 years, Justin Edwards & Neil Hopgood – 21 years, Danny Hunter – 20 years, Andy Witting, Richard and Martin Eastell – 19 years, Scott Mason and Simon Robb – 17 years, Lee Emmett & David Kirk – 16 years, Jason Woolner, Gavin Durham, Jamie Key and Lisa Cootes – 15 years.

In addition to these 34 people, we have another 32 staff who have served for between 5 and 15 years, a remarkable statistic for a business working as contractors in the Engineering Construction Industry. If we have missed anybody off these lists of employees, then you will have to forgive us, as our memories are not quite what they were when we started with the firm back in the 1980s!

Tragedy, rebuilding, and the future

The last few years have been especially tough and tumultuous for the business, as we’ve had to face the most difficult event in the company’s history, when we lost our good friend and colleague Rob Cranston, in an explosion at Briar Chemicals in July 2018. We had just completed the most successful trading year in the company’s history, when we were brought crashing down to reality and reminded in the worst possible way, just how dangerous the industry in which we operate can be. However, we were immensely proud of how the company united to support each other and Rob’s family, and vowed to continue to move on together, whilst ensuring that nothing similar could happen again.

The last couple of years have been very tough trading wise and of course in the last few months we have added coping with the Coronavirus Emergency to our considerations. Once again, the Pruce Newman team have done the right thing and applied the correct precautions to enable us to keep each other safe and carry on. In the last year we have also restructured the ownership of the business, with Shirley and Alan Pruce, Brian and Graham Newman and Tim Moorse retaining historic ownership of the business, but with opportunities expanded for the executive directors of the business such as Jamie Key and Darren Razzell and any future directors. We have also done the right thing financially, by maintaining our tight financial management of the business, and ensuring adequate cash resources are available. So, despite the Coronavirus Emergency,  we are just about to head into our 51st year of trading, in a financially secure position and with a full complement of well trained and experienced staff, ready to face another year of challenges and opportunities.

The business has constantly evolved through the last half century and has endured many upheavals in that time, in addition to the major events already mentioned above. These include: surviving recessions in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s; passing through the IT revolution in the 80’s and 90’s and then surviving the millennium bug; coping with enormous changes in employment legislation regarding things such as new statutory benefits, compulsory holiday, pensions, statutory record keeping and other red tape; enormous changes in Health and Safety legislation (the Health & Safety at Work Act didn’t even exist when the company was formed!); and of course client led expectations in Quality and Environmental management, have also increased enormously in the last 30 years.

As a result of all this, we are immensely proud of the business that our fathers founded 50 years ago and are thankful to have been given the opportunity and privilege of helping to lead it for the past 25 years or so. However, we are even more proud of the Pruce Newman team, who we know have the resilience and team spirit to continue with the tradition of “doing the right thing” that our fathers instilled in the business, right from the very start, all those years ago.

So a big thank you to all our clients who have trusted us to deliver for them, and who we’ve been proud to serve for the past 50 years, thanks also to all the suppliers who’ve supported us along the way (including the likes of BSS, Aalco and Lamberts, among many others) and most of all, a very big thank you to all the staff that we’ve had the pleasure and honour to work with over the years, without you the business would not be in the strength that it is now and ready to face the next 50 years.

Alan Pruce & Graham Newman – July 2020