Taking flight: The Wing comes to London
As women-focused coworking space and community The Wing bring their trademark exuberance to UK shores, we explore the first international offering.
The name Specialist Joinery Group has been associated with some of the UK’s most high profile workplace and coworking projects – but who are they and why have they been named Mixology Manufacturer of the Year not once but twice?
Nestled quietly in the rolling hills of Mid Ulster, this jewel of a company are known for their friendliness and family orientated culture, as well as for their beloved joinery work. For over 31 years, the company has been firmly established as the major local employer in the market town of Maghera. Their arrival in the London workplace strategy market in 2010 has been disruptive and lauded by many as a refreshing new era, quickly surpassing existing tier one suppliers to take the top spot on tender lists.
Operating from an unrivalled 145,000 sq ft green manufacturing facility, which is powered by sustainable heat and solar power, the Group deliver projects for main contractors and are specified by architects for works across the UK, with a select list of global client relationships.
The new facilities boast a staff wellness centre and gym, which is open 24 hours per day, in addition to breakout spaces, meeting rooms and on-site restaurant, catering for all of the company’s HQbased staff on a daily basis.
So what does make SJG different from other joinery manufacturers?
‘We are a bespoke manufacturing company, with collaboration at the heart of our service model,’ MD Ciaran O’Hagan tells us. ‘We have over 31 years’ experience in providing joinery products for commercial interiors and we also now have standalone group companies offering glass, metalwork, installations and solid surfacing, which are key components for commercial interiors projects. We’re lucky enough to have been over to Specialist HQ, and it’s certainly an impressive place. ‘Our facilities are unrivalled in the UK market,’ Ciaran proudly says. ‘We have invested over £5million in our capability and capacity in the last 18 months, positioning Specialist Joinery Group at the forefront of bespoke joinery manufacture and in the UK market.
We continue to grow the specialisms that we offer beyond traditional joinery work. Client needs are ever-changing and unique to each project. Therefore, we are challenged to stay ahead of the market by anticipating changes in materiality, engineering, integration and styles. We spend a lot of time with the design community, asking designers and architects what they want to see in the future and then taking that message back to our team. It is my challenge to provide a seamless process and perfectly engineered product as per their requirements.
We ask Ciaran about exciting sister brand, Specialist Glass. ‘Specialist Glass are big in the specification market at the moment,’ he says. ‘They are winning not just because of product quality, but also because of their flexible service and ability to translate concept design into technical solutions. What they do is very neat and the quality is superb. Their products range from standard back painted glass, to complex architectural laminated wire mesh glass. They spend a lot of their time with key architectural and design practices, developing design concepts into one-off project specials – anything from bespoke ‘crittall’ screens to glass art!!
What does Automation mean for the business – and does Ciaran fear that craft skills being left behind? ‘Everyone loves to ask me about the impact that automation is having on craftbased manufacturing and it is a very interesting conversation,’ he considers. ‘My answer is different to most, as I speak as someone who has completed a City and Guilds apprenticeship and managed our machine shop – so I have a unique take on things.
As a company, we look at automation and robotics as a way of enhancing our capability and capacity to deliver the most challenging and intricate bespoke joinery within demanding timescales. However, we are resolute that we cannot erode our craft skills development programme within the company and that it must be a twin-track approach. We champion craft skills development. Why? Because we must always be able to achieve things from a first principles basis – ie. with hand tools, technique and flair; as you grow and develop, it is this fundamental knowledge that helps you form the basis of your problem solving skills.
In the past 12 months, we have welcomed another seven apprentices to the Specialist Academy and introduced a new City and Guilds accredited NVQ 2 & 3 training programme. This has been a great addition. Our Leadership and Development Programme is now in its second year and has been rolled out across the business. It is centred on furthering our values-based culture as we continue to grow our team.
Let’s talk about specific manufacturing investment. ‘As well as the increase in our manufacturing space, key additions to our capability have been the introduction of the Sprayline, additional CNC, beam saws and automatic veneering plants,’ Ciaran tells us. ‘Alongside this, there have been software installations and bespoke programmes written to fully digitise the manufacturing environment. This is a complete capital investment totalling £2million, which sets the scene nicely for where the organisation is going in the next 3-5 years.
And where is that? ‘Growth! We have our eyes set on growth – and this is by no means an aspirational target. It is a case of how much and by when. The group ambitions are supported by an extensive land bank, rich skills-base, automated manufacturing, stronger-than-ever order book, sound financials, a deep empathy for our customers and commitment to helping our clients achieve their goals. This is our secret; listening to the customer and delivering to commitment.
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