Purcell looks to safeguard future of the business with move into employee ownership
Heritage and conservation specialist Purcell says it wants to secure the future of the business and leave a legacy as it seeks to move to an employee ownership model.
Following in the footsteps of other practices such as Make and more recently Assael, Purcell chief executive Mark Goldspink says that plans to “gift” the business to the Purcell Trust, acting on behalf of the firm’s staff, mirrors the model adopted by retailer John Lewis.
“We [the owners of Purcell] have been in the business for over 30 years and I’ve seen how the team delivers on projects – this is how we can safeguard the ownership of the business to ensure that this won’t change in the future,” he says.
“We are going through the due diligence and consultations and are looking to complete the transition in 2020.”
This transition will make the business 70% employee-owned by 2020, and the ambition is for this to rise to 100% by 2026.
Purcell began its life restoring churches and army buildings in East Anglia. Its first major project was at Ely Cathedral in 1950, where it was appointed as surveyor to the fabric.
Headquartered in London, it now turns over £19m and has 11 studios across the UK, with three more overseas. Purcell does not, however, have sites in any EU country, nor does it take on many projects in central Europe, so Goldspink says Brexit is not a concern.
It has since specialised in heritage consultancy, working in the public, residential and culture sectors, landing work on high-profile sites across the UK, including Manchester Town Hall, St George’s Hall in Liverpool and conservation work to the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster in London.
Its scope on these projects involved repairs and modernisation work to transform aging, dilapidated buildings into modern sites designed for public and commercial use. And many of these buildings are in the public eye, which adds to the pressure on site, explains Goldspink.
“There’ll be a lot of scrutiny. You look at the Palace of Westminster, you see the scaffolding, the cast iron roofs – there’s a lot of expectation to get it right.
“The big challenge is to understand how the building is put together – for the Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, this is the first time in its history where it’s been completely taken apart, so we need to understand the materials used through historical analysis.”
Purcell has been overseeing a 10-year rolling programme of work on the Palace of Westminster from 2009, including roof repairs and window restoration. The firm’s involvement in the ongoing £61m refurbishment of the grade I-listed Elizabeth Tower, as part of this programme, includes conserving and restoring the stonework, cast iron roof, clock and clock faces
The practice also takes on smaller projects, including at Yr Ysgwrn, a cultural centre in Wales, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission across the Asia Pacific region. Goldspink says this is part of the firm’s safeguarding plan – retaining qualified staff by providing more opportunities to take the lead on smaller projects. In an environment where firms are competing for skills and new talent, the next generation want to be able to influence the future of the business, he says.
The firm’s recent focus has been on the use of BIM Level 2 to digitally map the building structure and manage the construction logistics on site and identify historical significance across parts of the building. “It’s high-tech heritage,” says Goldspink.
In terms of future projects, Goldspink expects to win more work through the Palace of Westminster framework on which it landed a place on last year, as well as work on improvements at Windsor Castle. Planning applications have been submitted to restore George IV’s Inner Hall at the castle for its original use as an entrance hall, and the Royal Collection Trust is investing £37m to complete the improvements.
In its most recent published financial results, Purcell posted pre-tax profit of £2.7m for the year to 30 April 2018, an increase on the previous year’s figure of £2m. Staff numbers dropped over the year, however, from 246 to 283, with total salaries consequently falling from £10.8m to £9.5m.
Purcell: Fact file
- Founded in 1947 by conservation expert Donovan Purcell
- Partnered with architect Peter Miller and graphic designer Bill Tritton in 1965
- Owners are in the process of transferring the business to the Purcell Trust, which will have a majority shareholding on behalf of employees
- Operates across various sectors, including public, residential and culture
- Employs 246 staff
- Turnover £19m
- Pre-tax profit of £2.7m for year to 30 April 2018
- Headquarters in Bermondsey Square, London
- 11 studios across the UK
- Three international studios in Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne
- Projects include the National Portrait Gallery, the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, and Manchester Town Hall