At the start of 2020, Nala Engineers was looking ahead to a positive 12 months, continuing to grow its client portfolio of regional and national clients, and strengthening its workforce to support ambitious plans for expansion.
But then the ‘C’ word happened, and everything changed. Editor Leanne Fawcett chats to director Nicola Duke about how the Seaham-based family business navigated its way through the coronavirus pandemic and what the future holds now the country is gradually returning to normal.
It’s fair to say 2020 was a year none of us expected.
What started off like any other new year quickly deteriorated, as a deadly virus that had started on the other side of the world got closer and closer to home.
But I don’t think any of us knew just how much we’d all be affected by the coronavirus pandemic – or indeed that there even would be a pandemic when it first began to spread.
That was certainly the case for family business Nala Engineers, a company that has enjoyed consistent year on year growth since it was launched by Pat and David Pollard in 1979.
Heading into 2020 the company was looking ahead to the roll out of several new contracts and was actively targeting new business with companies around the country. All was looking positive and the team at Nala were planning for their busiest and most successful year to date.
That is until the country was plunged into a national lockdown as cases and deaths linked to Covid-19 spiralled and it was clear the world was in the midst of its most serious health crisis for decades.
Director Nicola Duke explains: “It seemed overnight everything changed for us, like it did for so many businesses”. The majority of our clients are within the retail and construction sectors, which were among those hardest hit by the lockdown, and our work very quickly dried up as projects were put on hold. Where at the start of the year we were preparing for business growth, with plans to recruit to support the new contracts we were expecting to bring in, instead we had to look at how we were going to ride through what was undoubtedly a major national emergency.
“Thankfully, the Government announced substantial support packages to help businesses like ours, and one of the first things we did was utilise the furlough scheme. We didn’t want to lose any of our staff and this scheme was a lifesaver really, as it meant we could retain the services of all of our employees through the financial support made available by the Government. There’s no doubt it was an incredibly challenging time and with so much uncertainty around, we didn’t know what things would look like when we came through the pandemic.
“However, we ended 2020 with some positivity towards the New Year, which meant that the financial forecasts we put in place at the start of last year are now once again achievable. That’s fantastic when you consider everything we’ve all had to contend with.”
As the country came out of the March lockdown – as it turns out the first of three which the country would face – Nala was able to gradually bring back staff, and even when the tightest of restrictions were once again imposed, the construction sector was able to continue to work. Welcome news for companies like Nala which relied on the sector as a source of income.
Nicola, who runs the business with her brother Andrew, is also keen to highlight the support the business got from its bank, Natwest, which, alongside a 100 per cent NBSL grant that Nala secured to have the website redeveloped, helped the business gain some financial stability.
Now through a third national lockdown, and with retail and leisure venues once again open, Nala Engineers is looking towards a much brighter future, with all staff back at work and plans in place to further strengthen the apprentice pool of talent it employs.
Nicola added: “Goodness me, 2020 was hard wasn’t it, but now there’s definitely a renewed feeling of optimism, that we’re now on the road to the normal we knew before the coronavirus pandemic happened. I’m pleased to say that although the first quarter of the year was spent in lockdown, for us it was very much business as usual – that seemed to be the case for many businesses as I think now, we’re all set up for working in a safe but socially distanced way.
“The challenge now is to achieve the projections we put in place for last year and I really believe we can do that.”
Nala Engineers, which counts the likes of Aldi, Caterpillar, Gateshead Housing, North Tyneside Council, Wickes, and Matalan among its clients, currently employs 20 people, including three apprentices and one who recently fully qualified. And bringing in further talented people who can undergo training programmes while they learn the ropes is something Nicola and the Nala team is very keen on, as is continuing to develop more opportunities within the renewables sector.
“The future of our business lies with the young people we bring in, and if they can learn from our most experienced personnel, Nala Engineers will be in a good place to continue to grow over the coming months and years,” added Nicola.