For almost 80 years Bridgwater-based construction firm RK Bell has served public and private sector clients throughout the South West, earning itself a reputation for providing excellent services which today include civil engineering, plant hire and surfacing work.
When Hinkley Point C (HPC) was first talked about RK Bell’s management knew it presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the business, and not just in financial terms.
“We went to the very first meetings, eight or nine years ago,” says Nick Bell, managing director of the business his grandfather started back in 1941. “We were appointed to the first steering groups set up to look at how local firms could benefit from the project, so we’ve been very involved right from the start.”
He adds “Apart from winning contracts, which has been a massive boost to our company, the knowledge-gain we have acquired both through working alongside Tier 1 contractors and also through improvements to our own internal processes to comply with the site’s regulations, has been nothing short of priceless.”
Recognising there were more opportunities if “strength in numbers” could be shown, RK Bell was one of the first to form a strategic partnership with complementary businesses, in this case including a Tier 1 contractor, Skanska, creating the Somerset Infrastructure Alliance (SIA) – a collaborative model which has since been replicated by many more consortiums.
Today the SIA is involved in ongoing work in and around HPC, including civil engineering and surfacing projects for what’s called “associated development sites” – essentially delivering the vital infrastructure projects, such as the park and ride in Cannington and road improvements in Bridgwater.
“To be able to work equally, side by side, with a Tier 1 contractor like Skanska is a huge boost to us,” continues Nick. “It shows the level of expertise we have within RK Bell, and that we are improving all the time.”
Part of that continuous improvement journey came six years ago, when RK Bell achieved ISO 9001 accreditation – demonstrating that the firm was committed to quality management throughout the organisation, a requirement for winning work at HPC.
“We are also now ‘nuclear approved’,” continues Nick, “proving we are completely focused on raising the bar regarding the skills and qualifications our people have, particularly relating to health and safety, and also on how we can improve our business further.
“Another significant development is that the length of contracts we have won with HPC have given us the confidence to invest more in young people and to start our very first apprenticeship scheme to create the next generation of highly skilled and motivated construction workers.”
Nick says RK Bell has been steadily growing its workforce to around 50 current employees, including a separate team dedicated to the SIA and HPC, meaning none of the firm’s core customers’ projects suffer.
He adds: “In addition, we have recently seen a 25 per cent uplift in personnel working for HPC.”
Nick has some good advice for businesses aspiring to win contracts at HPC, where construction activity is gathering pace by the day.
“It sounds obvious, but you’ve got to be in it to win it,” he says. “The work’s not going to come looking for you, so get yourself registered on the supply chain portal and start telling people what you’re capable of.
“Next, be prepared to ‘walk the walk’. In other words, if you say you can deliver something you’d better make sure that’s true, as there are plenty of your competitors who’ll be waiting to grab opportunities.
“Finally, you must commit for the long-term, and be prepared to face any challenges head-on and in a collaborative way with other contractors.”
He added: “HPC has helped us in many ways, not least by raising the bar in terms of a skilled workforce, safer working environment and increased profile, so the rewards are definitely there if you’re prepared to put in the hard work.”