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Deconstructing the demolition industry

In our latest blog, we focus on the construction industry and give the inside track on what you need to know about demolition.

We catch up with Cawarden, a demolition firm that Paragon has supported for many years, to finance millions of pounds worth of heavy machinery from excavators to mobile crushers.Cawarden’s owner William Crooks has more than 30 years of experience in demolition, along with being a member of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors and a former Chairman for its Midlands and Welsh regions.

Here’s William’s top 5 insights into the demolition business:

1. What is so special about the demolition industry?

I started out as a farmer and then went into reclaimed building materials, so demolition was a step on from that. I’ve now spent over 30 years as a demolition contractor and it’s a way of life for me. My two sons, Oliver and Sam, are also now in the business and it’s an industry where there are a lot of relatives and family-run businesses. I’ve made some really good friends along the way and, in this industry, when you shake someone’s hand, it’s your bond.

2. What advice would you give about demolition equipment?

I bought my first machine in 1988 – it was an old JCB 807B that cost £8,000 and is sat in my yard rusting up. I’ve gone from that to more modern machines over the past 20 years so financing with a lender I trust is important to me. Upgrading equipment can mean a business is more productive, for instance a hydraulic excavator I bought recently can change attachments from a shear to a bucket in seconds. There’s also a market for reselling used equipment around the world if you want to upgrade.

3. What has been the most memorable site you’ve worked on?

Cawarden has demolished landmarks including Leicester Royal Infirmary and Derby County Football Club’s Baseball Ground and there is always something interesting.

We normally have 15 to 20 sites on the go at a time, but the most that I had operating at once throughout the year was 27 sites and that ranged from demolishing a bungalow to a hospital.

The most memorable job I’ve ever worked on was an underground quarry at Middleton Mine. There were four miles of tunnels in which we had to demolish the mining equipment and I’ve never come across anything like it. It started out as wet but as you got further down, it was freezing cold. We were in this huge space and at one point, there was a cemetery above us. There were conveyors all along the roof, it was amazing to see.

A recent contract involved knocking down a former bottling plant in Burton upon Trent where Cawarden knocked down a former bottling plant to make way for new housing.

What made it more tricky was that part of the site was only 10ft from the main trainline from Burton to Birmingham and it would have cost the train company £25,000 a minute if it had to stop the trains because anything was on the track. There was a railway engineer with us on site and we had to put up specially designed scaffolding to stop anything going on to the line. There were underground wells to deal with as well along with large amounts of licensed and non-licensed asbestos, so as you can tell, it’s fascinating work.

4. Is there money to be made from recycling from your sites?

Recycling is a huge part of my work. When you knock down a building, 85% to 95% is being reused.

Everything possible for recycling is picked out, stripped and sorted. We know more about bricks than anyone in the country. All the bricks are stacked and sold on.