A Sunderland social housing contractor took the prize in this new category, thanks to its enlightened employment policies, green innovations and rock 'n' roll plumber

This category was open to any type of construction business or individual (client/consultant/contractor/housebuilder/materials supplier/merchant) that has been operating for a minimum of three years as of December 2008.


  • Gentoo Construction

Gentoo realised early on that its strength was its people. Formed from the ashes of the Sunderland Housing Group, Gentoo now employs the highest number of young apprentices of any employer in the UK. The company isn't afraid to let its employees try new things, either - a joiner has been able to condense his hours to train with the 2012 Olympics squad, and one of its plumbers who moonlighted as a rock guitarist was encouraged to take a career break to follow his dreams. As a not-for-profit organisation, Gentoo can afford to invest in people and innovation, so long as it helps to grow the business. A good example is its decision to build the first development in the UK to use the super sustainable German PassivHaus system, thereby helping to improve its own sustainability expertise while furthering the cause of environmental construction.


  • A&S Enterprises

To be a successful young firm, you need something that sets you apart from your competitors. A&S has just the thing: it offers a “one-stop-shop” for projects big or small. Need some minor repairs? How about a hospital? A&S has a team that can sort it out for you. The key to its fast and reliable service has been the introduction of an M&E division that helps it to deliver co-ordinated projects from beginning to end. As a result, A&S almost doubled its turnover in two years, and hit £1.1m profit in 2008. With £3m of work already on the books for 2009, it looks as if it's on the road to yet more success.

  • GB Building Solutions

It can't be denied that GB Building Solutions started with a leg-up, inheriting 33 projects from its previous life as Gleeson Construction. However, the company has since almost doubled its order book from £280m to £420m and has increased turnover year on year by a solid 12%. The company has grown in other ways too, recruiting 226 new starters since 2006. Now that times are looking tighter, the firm has formulated a plan to carry it through the recession by keeping turnover steady and profit rising. With a balance of public and private clients and national coverage, there's no reason why it can't keep up the good work.

  • Savant

In the seven years it has been in operation, cost and project management firm Savant has achieved an exceptional level of growth. Turnover leaped 80% in the year 2006/07, and 60% in the past year. It already has a client list that companies 50 years its senior would envy, including outfits such as the BBC, News International and the British Museum. Savant has also built up an international spread of work that should help see it through the recession. It has offices in eastern Europe and Russia, and has introduced services to help international architects design for the Russian market. If it carries on like this, Savant could be one of the next big things in construction.

  • Skelly & Couch

Consulting engineer Skelly & Couch has been in operation for fewer than two years, but it has already built itself up into a £900k-turnover firm without recourse to external financial aid. The founders' advanced knowledge of environmental design, learned from a career at consulting engineer Max Fordham, has helped it to take a share of a burgeoning market. For example, the company's online collaborative software tools are already being used by companies such as Willmott Dixon, Sheppard Robson and EC Harris. Projects on the books include public sector work and jobs for carefully selected private clients, meaning that S&C's growth should continue if the market continues to fall.

  • Vincent Stokes

Kettering-based Vincent Stokes labels itself the “hassle-free contractor”. This applies not only to its clients, but also its subcontractors. Intent on putting into practice the lessons of Sir John Egan's Rethinking Construction report, the firm is focused on nothing less than “changing the culture of the industry”. How does it plan to do that? Well, turns out that it's surprisingly easy. All you have to do is develop a stabilised, trusted supply chain, pay it on time, and developing repeat business with clients. It seems to be working, too. In five years, the firm has grown tenfold.