Ulster Business

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Business Showcase with Ulster Bank: Meeting the home-working demands amid Covid

As the pandemic struck and the majority of us moved to working from home, Robert Eadie saw demand for his Garden Rooms NI business take off. What started as a supplementary income alongside house-building quickly became his day-to-day business

Robert Eadie saw first hand the initial impact of Covid-19 as he and his team worked at Craigavon Area Hospital just as the pandemic hit.

He’s the founder of Garden Rooms NI – a business which has seen demand for home offices, home gyms and other outdoor buildings soar in the last couple of years, amid the move towards home-working.

At one stage it was one a month, then one a week. But with the demand created as a result of the pandemic, that’s increased to two a week, with a team of nine.

Robert’s business started in 2010 following the property crash amid falling demand for homes, a lack of lending and a market contraction.

“We were essentially house builders at the time,” he says. “We came back from England and had land – you weren’t able to build or do anything. So this was the introduction of a new revenue stream.

“It was born out of necessity. We had seen the idea in England, in luxury magazines people were offering similar services. But the term garden rooms hadn’t arrived yet.”

Things started off initially to gauge interest in what was a new product on the market, with Robert putting one of his garden rooms on the back of a trailer and taking it to shows.

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When the housing market picked up and building returned, Robert says he was using the garden rooms end of business to supplement income.

“Year two or three it was about one a month,” Robert says. “Then things started to take off – it was up to 30 a year.

“We were up to 50 a year pre-Covid. That was about one a week, while we were still building houses.

“Then Covid hit and we were building a quiet room in Craigavon hospital when it happened. It was nasty. You were on the ground and seeing people going down the corridor on a stretchers. You didn’t know what was going on.”

Robert says he was brought back in as an essential service to do additional work.

The business was then facing a challenge in getting materials, with supply lines drying up as the pandemic hit and swept across the globe.

“Production of sheet materials stopped. But we used what money we could, if there was a piece of wood, we bought it, and ordered doors in advance, so we didn’t have to go searching for them.”

And with the majority of Northern Ireland’s workforce moving to home-working, that drove the demand in people investing in additional space for their properties.

“The awareness of garden rooms as a product was out there… once Covid hit there a spike. Everyone needed a home office.

“Home schooling and two people working at home wasn’t working, so people wanted a home office. Demand went through the roof, supply of materials came down. We stopped building houses and we are now doing two garden rooms a week.”

Robert’s garden rooms range from around £11,000 up to £30,000 – the latter including extras such as kitchens or bathrooms. “We work really well as a team and everyone knows what they are doing.”

And he’s worked alongside Ulster Bank for the last two generations, using the bank for funding over the years for house-building and other developments.

Room to grow for Northern Ireland’s tourism industry

By Neill Boyd, business development manager, Ulster Bank

Demand for domestic gateways or staycations rose dramatically during the pandemic years but even now with borders reopened and foreign travel back on the cards, the appetite for holidays at home shows no signs of slowing down.

People are wakening up to the beauty and variety of leisure attractions here and when you can access these without the stress of a busy airport, then everyone is a winner.
The tourism industry here has been experiencing a significant boom recently. We no longer limit our holiday areas to the surrounds of the north coast or county down and this is largely down to the fantastic job local tourism bodies have done to promote the whole of Northern Ireland as a destination for your next getaway.

Of course it’s also down to the huge surge in availability of accommodation options. Companies like Garden Rooms NI have positioned themselves perfectly to react to the increased demand for staycations and by providing ‘glamping’ pods or cabins, have helped businesses unlock the untapped potential of an area’s natural beauty.

Ulster Bank has a long history of providing support for the leisure and tourism sector and it’s an industry we are focusing heavily on right now. We understand the needs of these customers and have the tools and expertise needed to help leisure businesses fulfil their growth ambitions.

A key part of our proposition is that we live and work in the environment and have the local knowledge need to better understand the challenges our customers face. We can present insights and add value to your business as well as offering you carefully tailored products, put in place to meet the direct needs of your business.

With staffing bills and a constant need to pay suppliers, hotels, restaurants and other such leisure facilities all have a reliance on a strong, reliable cashflow. We can provide support by way of loans and overdrafts to maintain your cash flow and will work closely with you to put the right option in place.

As well as focusing on the short-term needs of our customers, we also like to look further ahead and have plans in place to protect their interests and encourage longer term growth. One of the ways we do this today is by providing climate support. Adopting green practices is important for all businesses but often we overlook the fact that it can also help your company become more efficient and gain positive recognition from customers and investors.

Making the transition to a low-carbon economy requires collaboration from all areas of society and Ulster Bank is committed to playing our part in this. Through our parent group NatWest, we have committed £100bn of climate and sustainable funding by 2025 to accelerate this transition and our green loans and green asset financing can help your company become more sustainable.

Wherever you escape to this summer, I hope you get the chance to explore the beauty that is right on your doorstep and the welcome boost for the tourism and hospitality industry is sustained. If you want to have a chat about how Ulster Bank can help your business then contact the business banking hub where you will find all the information need to connect with your local business manager and access the support you need.