Merit L-R  Jordan Williams, Mick Curry, James Hynes

L-R: Jordan Williams, Mick Curry, James Hynes of Merit.

North East engineering and construction company, Merit Holdings, is garnering praise and winning substantial construction contracts, thanks to a massive rethink in approach and a grant from the North of Tyne Growth Fund, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and supported by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA).

Construction News named Merit as one of 10 construction companies to watch in 2021, and it’s not difficult to see why, with the company changing its business plan to offer holistic building projects almost totally using offsite pre-assembled modules.

The company also offers immense new build manufactured products, including whole hospitals, vaccine facilities, laboratories and biopharma applications.

Sustainability is at the heart of the new strategy, using new technologies, renewables, heat pumps and heat recovery systems to produce zero carbon emissions high tech industrial facilities which eliminate the use of fossil fuels and minimise the carbon footprint.

Matthew McGrady, Director of Finance and Commercial at Merit Holdings, said the change to total offsite delivery in 2019 had been carefully calculated:

“We’d been doing offsite manufacturing for years but COVID changed everything, and we are a very different breed from this time last year. We knew that increasing our offsite capabilities would be attractive to clients, offering both lower costs and faster completion - so yes it was a gamble, but we knew we were moving in the right direction to ensure long term growth.”

First established in 1993, Merit used its mechanical and electrical knowledge and experience to develop its capabilities in delivering cleanrooms and clean technology projects in 2002: “Merit had been totally focused on this side of the business, but over the last 12 months we had the chance to really develop the R&D,” Matthew said. “We’d also launched Merit Health in 2020, which means we can design and construct a huge range of health facilities, from new build hospitals right through to specialist gene and stem cell laboratories.”

A grant from the North of Tyne Growth Fund has supported the expansion of the company’s offsite manufacturing capabilities into an additional, and much larger, factory close to Merit’s established Cramlington premises.

Matthew explained: “The new site had been derelict for more than 10 years and needed substantial refurbishment, so we turned to the Growth Fund. We’d never had any grant funding before and always made our own way, but we stepped back and thought we’re going to be creating lots of jobs, so let’s have the conversation.”

Merit was awarded £250,000 towards the refurbishment cost, and Matthew says it has enabled the company to push its expansion plans along, which in turn has meant they will also employ more people: “We’re a keen employer in the North East, with a very strong apprenticeship programme, and our numbers are set to grow from the 168 staff we currently have.”

Merit will soon complete an £8m sterile services facility for the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. The Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD) project is the sixth of its kind that Merit has designed and delivered, adapting its modular Merit ‘Instant Building’ concept to the building requirements. The CSSD provides an infection control embedded solution in a zero carbon emissions building, and 90% of the project has been completed offsite at Merit’s factory using mainly pre-assembled modules.

Matthew encouraged companies to consider an approach to the Growth Fund: “The team were flexible in structuring the grant in a way that works for us, and I certainly felt that the process was all about trying to help and advise us to get the best value out of it.”

Key takeaways

  • The North of Tyne Growth Fund is a £4.6m investment programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which supports SME growth across Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle local authorities. Expanding small and medium-sized businesses based in Newcastle, North Tyneside or Northumberland could be eligible for a grant of up to 30% of expenditure, if they are planning capital investment of at least £67,000 - for more information visit https://www.northoftynegrowthfund.co.uk/ 
  • Merit has used the fund to support the expansion of the company’s offsite manufacturing capabilities into an additional, and much larger, factory, which will create new jobs - find out more about them at https://www.merit.co.uk/
  • For more inspirational business interviews, head over to the UMi platform at https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/
Alison Cowie
Article by Alison Cowie
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