A common misconception about the vast HPC project is that you have to be a huge business in order to win contracts at the site.
Whilst it’s true that a handful of very large companies, a group known as the “tier one contractors”, are the main operators at HPC, there are no barriers whatsoever to local SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises) winning major contracts at the site.
One such firm is Astron Fire and Security, a tight-knit team of experienced fire and security systems specialists led by Greg van Laun and based in Portbury near Bristol.
Greg ran a successful security systems business with 3000 Clients in his native South Africa before emigrating to the South West 20 years ago and starting Astron in 2010.
Since then Astron has grown steadily, building a portfolio of domestic and commercial clients throughout the region providing ongoing maintenance and “troubleshooting” cover for fire alarm/extinguisher, CCTV, access control and intruder alarm systems, as well as nurse call and staff attack alarms.
“We have six directly-employed engineers, and a pool of trusted sub-contractors we use as and when required,” explained Greg, adding: “We only employ the very best, most experienced and knowledgeable people, with great communication skills, meaning our clients know they are always receiving the very best service possible.”
Six years ago, Greg signed his business up to the online HPC supply chain portal, registering his interest in being a supplier to the Hinkley project.
At the same time, he joined the Somerset Chamber of Commerce, and made it a priority to attend as many “meet the suppliers” events and other networking opportunities as possible.
“I have to admit I did wonder if Astron would be too small to win work at HPC,” he said, “but everyone was really supportive and encouraging so I stuck at it as I could see there could be good opportunities for us.”
Then, in 2016, Greg was introduced to the Directors of HOST, the company responsible for running the two world-class accommodation campuses for HPC workers and visitors.
After travelling to 72 events across Somerset and attending 37 one to one meetings, earlier this year, Astron signed an eight-year contract with John West (Contractors) Ltd. to provide round the clock fire and security systems maintenance services at the HOST campus facilities – one adjacent to HPC itself and another in Bridgwater.
“Most of the contracts we sign are for a year,” continued Greg. “so, to win a contract for the next eight years is a remarkable development for us and will play a huge part in our ongoing business growth plans in the South West.”
In addition to the financial benefits of winning the work – Greg and his team estimate the contract will be equivalent to about a fifth of their annual turnover – they also believe the prestige that comes with being a supplier to one of the most high-profile and security-conscious construction projects on the planet will help their wider business ambitions.
“The fact we have been selected to do this work over our larger competitors is a huge endorsement of the skill, experience, all-round ability of our team, and our commitment to the local area” said Greg.
“It’s by no means a simple task to win work at HPC,” he added, “but our experience should give any South West business owners, no matter what size their company is, confidence that if they are good enough then the opportunities are there.”
Greg said: “My advice to anyone thinking of winning work at HPC is to get out there and do the work meeting people, making key contacts and generally getting your face seen by the decision makers.”
He added: “I can’t praise the Somerset Chamber and Supply Chain Team highly enough. Their proactive approach and excellent focus on matching the larger contractors with local suppliers has really helped us and, no doubt, countless others.”