Trades 'busier than ever' amid growing trend for home renovations
- Credit: Grocott and Murfit
Tradespeople in the Dereham and Fakenham area say they are "busier than ever" amid a growing trend for home improvements and renovations.
Builders, electricians and a host of others in similar trades have seen their volume of jobs and enquiries shoot through the roof in recent months.
Some have even been forced to turn customers away for fear of ultimately disappointing them.
The surge has, in large part, been brought about by a higher number of people working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With many companies either shutting their offices or telling employees to work remotely, homeowners have been forced to consider projects including loft and garage conversions to accommodate desks, chairs and computer screens.
Among those to experience the spiralling demand first-hand is Craig Barnett, who runs family business I C Barnett Ltd Builders, based in Dereham.
He said the firm, which also takes on jobs further afield in Norfolk, had been flat-out and can barely keep up.
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"We have been busier than ever before," added Mr Barnett.
"It has been garage conversions so people can work from home - house extensions, too. People are turning their spare rooms into offices as well.
"There is just so much work out there that we are turning it away.
"We are even fully booked up for the entirety of next year already."
Fakenham-based Grocott and Murfit, which specialises in luxury builds, is seeing a similar level of interest.
Senior estimator Mark Masters said a difficult housing market had resulted in people choosing to stay put and revamp their existing homes.
"People are making improvements to their homes as there are limited options for moving in the current market," he added.
"We are very busy, with a full order book stretching into next year, and we see no signs of things slowing down.
"The next available slot we have for any new projects is next July or August. We could only take on one additional large project, otherwise we'd be fully booked until late 2022 or early 2023.
Clamour for carrying out bigger developments has, evidently, also had an impact on the workload of architects.
For architectural designers, Building Plans Ltd, based in Honingham, the situation is no different.
"We have been very busy," said architect, Paul Barber.
"Having said that, for the past 20 years we have been pretty busy. Especially in the last three to five years.
"It is the same story with most of the builders we use."
As the level of demand goes up, the availability of quality tradespeople to actually complete the work is seemingly at a premium.
This issue has been felt by Orange Fox Electrical, which has offices in Dereham and Guestwick, near Reepham.
Karen Harris, managing director, revealed the company had a busy diary "going well into 2022", but admitted there were challenges in staffing projects.
She said: "We have seen an increase in work year-on-year, despite the apparent economic climate after Brexit and Covid.
"However we have seen a sharp decline in experienced and qualified tradespeople, which can prove exceptionally difficult - but not insurmountable - for a business like ours."
Mrs Harris largely echoed the observations of colleagues in the trade, adding: "The diversity of the projects we work on, whether commercial or domestic, is definitely a change to the work we have seen in previous years.
"We have noticed a rise in the domestic markets, where we are seeing garage and loft conversions due to the new working from home culture."
One City and Guilds-qualified plumber from the Fakenham area, who asked not to be named, said bigger companies were becoming desperate in their hunt for skilled professionals.
He has recently had to pause his own work due to health reasons, but said: "Work-wise I had enough to keep me going no problem, but health concerns meant I had to stop.
"When I was working, jobs seemed to be rolling over from one into the other. I was so sought-after that I was headhunted by two companies in the space of a week.
“There is a lack of qualified people with the correct experience. There is also a lack of apprentices and the apprenticeship courses are not the same as they used to be.
"Overall, there is a real shortage of tradesmen. It is like trying to get a dentist."