A firm that is aiming to turn around the commercial fortunes of the solar panel market has scooped this award 

Winner: Viridian Solar

It's said that the best ideas are usually the most simple and Viridian Solar's idea to redesign the solar panel to meet the needs of the modern construction industry certainly fits that adage. Viridian understood the importance of being able to add eco technology to new buildings with minimum risk, cost and inconvenience and went about designing a low-profile, robust, inexpensive product that was quick to fit and so would not interrupt the build programme. The sleek panels protrude just 80mm above the battens, meet about 55% of domestic hot water requirements and don’t require a specialist to fit. An innovative manufacturing process allows the casing to be moulded in a single step, which also means lower cost: in fact, the price for installing the panels on one house can be less than £1,000.



In 2002, at the age of 24, Chris Thompson and Andrew Schmidt joined forces to form SUM; Walter Toward joined a few years later.

The company, which offers a range of services such as cost consulting, project management, claims and dispute resolution and sustainability advice, has since grown to 20 members of staff, and from a turnover of £121,000 in 2003, it is projecting £950,000 in 2008.

Its projects have included Feilden Clegg Bradley’s design for a 70,000ft2, £13m London Greenhouse, which aims to be one of the most sustainable projects in the UK to date. It is also engaged on a £1.1m landmark doctor’s surgery in Otley, West Yorkshire – and it must be doing a good job on schemes like this because 96% of its clients have returned for further work.

SUM’s success is particularly impressive because it didn’t inherit any clients and hasn’t made any acquisitions – all its growth has been organic. It prides itself on offering a personal touch and the skill of its “no-nonsense, hardworking, vibrant, dynamic” staff. It is also determined to shake off the corporate image usually associated with the construction industry; its meetings take place in a “quirky but effective” shed.

The company hasn’t lost its youthful profile since it started: the average age of employees is 29. One client calls them a “bunch who can be counted on when you need them, are willing to put in the effort and are fun to socialise with”.

What is more, the company provides extensive support to its staff in their careers – 81% of its employees are enrolled in higher education courses, and all further education is sponsored by the firm.

Vincent Stokes

In April 2003, Vincent Stokes was born out of a simple ethos – to make its clients’ lives easier.

It does this by consistently delivering projects on time and to budget, to an exceptional quality, by demonstrating a high level of care for its customers, suppliers and working as a cohesive team. As a member of the Lean Construction Institute, it has been involved in developing and employing lean processes and procedures in its projects. Through planning tools and regular meetings with the project team it continuously improves its processes and ensures cost and time savings for its clients and suppliers.

The refurbishment of Spelthorne’s leisure centres was never going to be an easy project. With the entire portfolio needing refurbishment and the council’s desire to keep the facilities open, both the client and contractor faced huge challenges. Nearly two years later, after spending over £2m, the client says: “I wouldn’t hesitate to work with VincentStokes again, whether on a large or small project. I am certain they can deliver.”

Vincent Stokes is valued by its clients for its hassle-free construction solutions but it also sees how it is perceived by its suppliers as important. This is where it feels it is changing the industry – it is proud of the fact that it consistently pays its suppliers on time and respects and supports them.

The success of projects like the refurbishment of the Cannons Health and Safety Fitness estate and the £1.2m Fareham Leisure Centre is a testament to its approach, as is the fact that its turnover has grown from £1m to £10m since its inception.