For businesses across Wales, 2020 has thrown up unexpected challenges – from the floods at the very beginning of the year, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties posed by lockdown, social distancing and the brakes being suddenly pressed on the economy.
Cardiff Bay-based Camilleri Construction, an insurance sector-focused construction firm, has been front and centre of these crises. But, as managing director Robert Camillieri explains, it's been a time of immense pride in what the company has been able to achieve with a loyal and committed workforce.
Tell us about Camilleri Construction.
Before anything else, a bit about what we do. We're an insurance sector-focused construction company. That means we handle claims from insurers and loss adjustors, doing the restoration work on properties under the terms of the insurance.
That has meant we've had a busy and testing 2020!
But we've been able to do what we do thanks in no small part to the effort and sacrifices our staff have made. Wind back the clock to February when people across the UK suffered some of the worst flooding for generations. Of course, many communities here in Wales, close to our south Wales headquarters, were left devastated.
As storm after storm swept the country, the flooding began, forcing families out of their homes – with many being told they wouldn't be able to move back for another nine months.
This is where we came in, and it's why I am so proud of my hard-working team. We took on 60 flood-related projects, which was a massive undertaking. It has been an immense and incredible effort. Our staff worked long, hard hours to get people out of emergency accommodation and back in their homes as soon as possible.
In the middle of us doing this crucial work, the pandemic hit. Just weeks after the floods, and as we were making progress, we realised many people would be forced to endure the trauma of lockdown in homes that were not their own, or if they were still in their own homes, they'd be living in damp and damaged conditions.
The sense of despair felt by the people suffering because of the floods only spurred us on to redouble our efforts and complete as many projects as we could as quickly as we could.
Our work was considered essential under Financial Conduct Authority guidance. We had to continue to provide the necessary ongoing work associated with insurance claims. It was as simple as that.
People's homes had to be made safe because the extreme weather had structurally damaged them. It was a job which had to be done. In ordinary times, our line of work throws up problems. But we know these were - and are - extraordinary times.
Our workforce had to navigate plenty of new logistical issues, not least following social distancing rules, keeping two metres apart and facing an unexpected struggle for increasingly scarce materials. These are problems we could never have imagined we'd have to tackle.
But every one of our team played their part, they turned up for work and never complained. They did their very best to overcome every obstacle, with the overriding goal of getting these houses back to their owners as soon as the lifting of restrictions allowed.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
A business is the sum of its parts. Every one of our staff has shown resilience, commitment and loyalty. They have made me immensely proud.
It's been a hugely challenging period, but we're ever so proud of the work we've done. We've traded at record levels and maintained our reputation for excellence in our sector.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
A difficult one to answer! If we've learned anything from the past few months, it's not to look back – there are so many challenges ahead that reflecting on the past seems futile right now.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
We've received plenty of Business Wales AGP support since we joined the programme. That support has included people development and performance management, recruitment and training; systems and operational processes, support for our IT infrastructure and help on the property and the financial side of the company.
The advice, expertise and the training which Business Wales AGP has given us has been key to our growth and development.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
● Listen to others, advice from outside is key to your company's growth.
● The team you build will be crucial to your business and how it performs, so recruit well.
● We live in uncertain times, and you can't plan for every eventuality, but it is good to be prepared for difficulties you might be able to see on the horizon.