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“I am a believer in practical experience and training”

by Jennie Ward

Andy Pilkington is Commercial Director at DFR Roofing. Having worked as a surveyor and in main contracting, he moved back into roofing in 1996. With this in mind, we tap into his vast experience to hear about his thoughts on the sector, the plus points and negatives, his advice for progressing in roofing and so much more…

What was your path into roofing and to your current position? 

I started out as a trainee surveyor in 1984 before moving into main contracting – working as a surveyor for Tarmac Construction in Plymouth and then Hill & Lang (part of the EBC/ROK group). Both roles saw me working alongside some very successful and charismatic individuals, and their insight proved invaluable when I chose to return to the roofing industry in 1996 – a sector I have always had a passion for.

Joining DFR Roofing’s Plymouth branch, I eventually went on to open and lead their Torbay office and subsequently their Exeter branch, establishing the firm as one of the leading roofing contractors in the South West. Fast forward 24 years and I am now DFR’s Commercial Director and treating the role as if it was still my first year, meaning I’m always looking to improve, diversify and introduce new methods and procedures into the business.

If you had one piece of advice about working and progressing in the roofing sector, what would it be?

I am a believer in practical experience and training and for anyone entering the sector, they should consider gaining some form of ‘hands-on’ experience. Many of my weekends in my early years were spent working, where I learned a lot from my more experienced team mates. 

The sector is constantly changing and even for the most experienced, the process of learning should never stop. I always encourage regular attendance at training events or courses, which can provide essential insight into new techniques or more innovative ways of working. 

Tell us about a current project you are working on…

We are currently undertaking an extensive refurbishment project on one of the South West’s most important Grade I listed buildings, Melville, located in an award-winning visitor destination, Royal William Yard. It is a highly complex contract consisting of 1400m² new Welsh slates, copper cladding to the top plateaux of the slate roofs, Garland high performance felt system to the significant perimeter gutter work and a vast amount of specialist leadworks. As the destination’s centrepiece, the 200-year old structure is set to become a mixed-use destination, home to a range of big-name businesses, making it a flagship project for the region. 

You must have worked on some difficult projects over the years. Does one in particular stand out?

One of our most ‘testing’ contracts was the installation of a Bauder Green Roof system on the Ilfracombe Pavilions in North Devon. This has to be around 20 years ago but was one of our first contracts over the £100,000 value. To say this was a baptism of fire into the top league, with the most complex detailing you could imagine, all to be re-measured, is an understatement – also not forgetting the dire weather to add insult to injury! Lessons were learned but it came in well at the end and we were so proud to have been involved. 

What about difficult customers, how do you deal with them? Any situations that stand out that you can tell us about?

This could be a subject in its own right! Our ethos focuses on giving our resources to those clients and contractors who support us year in, year out. By working with contacts that understand the restrictions we face in this industry, we find it results in a much more positive and amiable approach.

Any stand out moments? 

Plenty, but best to keep these for a rainy day!

What’s the most frustrating thing about your job?

Sometimes the efforts put in by our amazing team of employees and the excellent quality of work they produce can be lost in this busy and hectic industry. There can be a feeling of ‘any roofer can do that’, but the lack of acknowledgement for the work that goes on behind the scenes by these individuals and the pride they show in their workmanship does leave me frustrated, as they are proud of what they do to achieve completion under often very testing circumstances. Without these skilled individuals we would be nothing and I wish we could emphasise this more often.

And the most satisfying?

Seeing the ‘underdog’ coming through the ranks. Whether within management or on the tools, to see someone tackle their own restrictions and to come to fruition is the most rewarding aspect of my role.  

What’s your most important tool as a roofing contractor, either in the office or on site?

My cup of tea! It has accompanied me through testing times and certainly deserves a mention. The thought of sitting for hours tackling complex issues, planning, management issues, commercial decisions, contractual issues and other ‘exciting’ requirements would be impossible without my cuppa. 


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