Belfast Telegraph

Career ladder: Steeplejack Brian Rainey on why fear is a healthy emotion in his trade

By Amanda Ferguson

When your workplace is more than 700ft up in the air, a healthy fear of heights is required.

Belfast entrepreneur Brian Rainey has been a steeplejack since he was a teenager so he knows all about that.

The third generation of his family to carry out this skilled traditional craft, the 32-year-old is in charge of projects across Ireland as part of the business he set up three years ago.

Rainey Restoration employs six people with fully accredited abseiling qualifications and he takes on temporary skilled staff as needed.

After years of working for family, the former tennis coach says it's been tough building up the steeplejack and rope access services firm from scratch but he loves what he does.

The business is split into four divisions:

* Restoration and conservation -- restoring stonework and other traditional buildings associated with historic and ecclesiastical buildings;

* Access solutions and high-level maintenance -- combining steeplejack and abseil techniques to reach any height in an effort to eliminate the need for scaffolding or cranage;

* Structural surveys -- providing an analysis of the extent of remedial work needed;

* Roofing, guttering and lightning protection to meet with current standards.

When Business Month caught up with Brian his feet were firmly on the ground.

He explained that many people are unaware of the range of services a steeplejack can offer, and many have no idea exactly what it is he does for a living.

"I've had people say everything from 'you don't look like you would work with horses' to this glazed look and then they admit they don't know what a steeplejack does. Kids think we are Spider-Man!

"We tend to work on churches, and other tall structures that need lightning protection," Brian adds.

Brian says there is no feeling like being hundreds of feet up in the air working on a project.

"Being on a chimney that you can feel moving, when you have your back against it is a bit strange," he says. "All structures are built to move, even the new steel chimneys.

"I would be very reluctant to employ anyone who says they are not afraid of heights. I need them to have a bit of fear. If you're not always on the ball that is when accidents can happen."

Brian thoroughly enjoys the specialist work and getting to examine detailed workmanship from years gone by.

"I love working on churches, because the workmanship... you just don't get these days."

The father-of-one, with a baby on the way, says he could not have made a go of the business had it not been for the support of his family.

"The first year in I was pumping money into the business and nothing seemed to be coming back, but then we started to make money. My dad has been absolutely outstanding in all this. He has been there every step of the way. My mum and my wife, Catherine, and all my family have been great."

Brian is planning to grow the business over the years, taking on more staff in the process.

"I don't know how many buildings I pass with scaffold right up to the top, for things that are minor and could be done via rope access.

"It's not like years ago, when steeplejacks were based in churches and working on industrial chimneys. Nowadays we cover a range of conservation and restoration. All our methods are traditional. It's all lime-based mortars and repointing

"From an access point of view we are able to paint, do steel repairs, steel testing, a whole scope of works."

Brian notes that architects and engineers are increasingly talking about the use of drones to inspect the top of buildings. But, he insists, "a drone can't touch".

"We are investing in cameras for helmets so they can be linked to an iPad," he explains.

"It means that an engineer or architect on the ground can see what I'm looking at.

"We communicate and they can see what I can see.

"Anyone that thinks height or access should be thinking of a steeplejack first before they think of a crane, cherry picker or scaffolding.

"At the minute it's the other way about and I hope to change that," says Brian.

Belfast Telegraph Digital