25 June 2018
Realising that the battlefield was better connected than many building sites, former soldier PJ Farr used military precision for a civilian problem and brought a new level of organisation to new-build sites in the process. RUPERT BATES reports
The clue is in the language. PJ Farr will be there by 0900 hours, especially if it is ‘mission-critical’. The former infantryman from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment,who couldn’t understand why he got a clear signal in the desert or amid the penguins of the Falkland Islands. But nothing connected in Guildford High Street, conceived a battle plan and is executing it with speed and precision to the benefit of the UK housebuilding industry.
Connectivity provider Countrywide Telecoms rebranded last month as UK Connect, doing what it says on the tin with enterprise and zeal, connecting the UK and, more specifically, housebuilders.
It is easy to extend the army metaphor, but it defines rifleman Farr’s disciplined approach. See aproblem; find a solution – quickly and professionally.
Developers always assumed theyhad more important and, yes, ‘missioncritical’ issues to address onsite. There were homes to build, subcontractors to juggle, logistics to manage, targets to meet and consumers to sell to.
Connectivity? The site manager had a mobile and if he crouched be hind the pallets and pointed his phone north and his hard hat south could just about get a signal.
“UK Connect provides full connectivity to construction sites,marketing suites and show homes within 10 days of ordering, allowing teams to build, market and sell their new properties from the very beginning,” says managing director Farr, who founded Countrywide Telecoms five years ago.
“Our rebrand, with a new website, is the UK Connect commitment to provide clear and simple explanations of our high-tech, tailored solutions, aswell as our mission to be the leading provider of communication solutions to the construction industry.”
“As an ex-soldier, I couldn’t understand why the army was able to create secure connections in the most remote locations, yet we had many places in the UK where you can’t get a decent signal – including building sites.”
UK Connect clients include Taylor Wimpey, Redrow, CALA, Linden, Barratt and Thames Valley Housing.
Andy Feldon, IT director of TaylorWimpey, says: “UK Connect and their Site Connect solution has removed one of my biggest operational issues –by delivering fast, secure and highly available communications to our building sites within a very short lead-time. After years of broken promises from various providers, PJ and histeam delivered.”
UK Connect does not tie its clients into contracts, offering a flexible ‘onand off’ hire connected system. Its technical expertise, agile business model and reputation for rapid response means that, whether the job is a one-off project for a niche housebuilder or one of many schemes for a large, national developer, UK Connect provides the same high-quality, efficient and personal service.
UK Connect now has 15 staff and its turnover has risen from £30,000 in the first year to around £3.7m, but with plenty more in the pipeline as more big-name builders come on board.
The world of broadband and mobile communications gets bigger by the day and Farr and his team never stop innovating, addressing the next technology, living on a fast-fibre diet toput in place the infrastructure vital to the national ambition to be a digital economic powerhouse.
UK Connect has partnered with the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey just down the road from its Guildford offices, making sure it isthe first to hear about tomorrow’s telecoms.
Farr may talk – and he talks with an infectious enthusiasm for his products and how they can drive forward the new homes industry – in megabyte size chunks, but how ever advanced the digital comms, human communication and personal service remain the bedrock of the business –and its success.
It is no surprise to hear that Farr employs former soldiers, with the company signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant. When, taking voluntary redundancy, he left the army, Farr, who had been thrown out of school, couldn’t find a job and having been accepted for a grant to help him back into civvy street, the government suddenly pulled the scheme.
“I started the business with precisely £1,100. I had no business background or experience, but believed my military skills were transferable, especially anability to work under pressure.”
His connected start-up was supported by his father-in-law Danny Smith of D Smith Brickwork, and UK Connect now has around 8,000 connected customer sand 20 housebuilder clients, with strong brand values around service and customer care, in particular, enshrined in the business.
Farr, aged 30, has come far since his ‘office in a box,’ billed, back in 2014, as ‘a one-stop solution for your remote broadband issues’.
It was simply a mobile box, providing instant broadband wherever installed, creatively combining wireless technologies and utilising the next ground-breaking advancement in 4G.
For house builders it meant business can be conducted the moment construction was started. Connected to the point when the cables were in place for broadband to be permanently installed. And when no longer needed, the wireless Office In A Box could be picked up and moved to another location.
Farr’s story takes in a tale of Tigers (his regiment’s nickname) and penguins, as it was in the South Atlantic that his idea was born. He may not be Doctor Dolittle, but in terms of connecting the housebuilding industry, Farr is the ultimate communicator.
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“Working with UK Connect has been a smooth and easy process. The team has been fantastic by going above and beyond, getting our broadband installed for us within extremely tight deadlines and ensuring the client relationship is done in an efficient manner. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the UK Connect team, as I find they are highly reliable and have good attention to detail and carry out the job to an exceptional standard.