Resilience and Sustainability: Ingredients for a Successful Small Business

20 July 2018

Catherine Windross, from Ryedale Plasterers, spoke at our 2018 Annual Conference, where she inspired us all with her story of resilience and focus on sustainability.

Ryedale Plasterers is a small and specialised North Yorkshire based business. Small businesses are the beating heart of our regional economy and Catherine Windross, Managing Director for Ryedale Plasterers, sets an inspiring example of a business owner who understands her people as a core asset.

Established in 1982, Ryedale Plasterers is a family business, regarded as experts in the restoration of original plaster features, with an enviable reputation for excellence. With over 100 years of experience between them, the second and third generation skilled craftsman in the business have built up a large range of historically accurate and modern moulds. These, along with their bespoke mould-making skills, enable them to create brilliantly ornamental embellishments and to carry out authentic restorations of original work.

Traditional materials, such as lime-haired render, help to maintain the authenticity of buildings. However, knowing how to use such materials is a vanishing skill. Increasingly, lime or plasterwork is removed entirely, where a skilled repair could be far more cost-effective and preserve the character of a room. Sadly, some of the country’s most beautiful plasterwork has been, quite unnecessarily, lost forever. The skilled craftsmanship required to restore and replace beautiful and traditional plasterwork is knowledge that has been passed down over generations. It is learnt by doing and is not something that can be taught in the classroom of your local building college. If the skill is not passed on, and learnt by hand, it is lost. Ryedale Plasterers are not only a business looking to thrive for itself, it is a business that plays a crucial role in the maintenance of our regional and national cultural heritage.

However, like any small business, Ryedale Plasterers has faced, and continues to face, many significant challenges. Catherine, bravely took charge of the company after the death of her husband, Matthew, who was the founder of Ryedale Plasterers. In the face her personal grief, Catherine committed to the long term success of the business, acknowledging that future sustainability lay within the value of the skills of her all male base of employees, and the relationships between them. Catherine took the lead to evolve the way that the business was run, bringing her own project management skills to the fore and building trust with her employees through completely transparent management. The team grew to feel like a family unit and continues in this way.

A further challenge to the sustainability of the business was the aging workforce. Catherine faced a serious threat to her business through a shortage of skills in the local area. Drawing on the tradition of passing on skills through hands-on, practical application, Catherine invested time in finding the right apprentices who could learn from her experienced team and expand the life and capacity of the business. Jack started as an apprentice four years ago and is now fully trained up, having completed Level 3 NVQ in fibrous plastering & Level 3 NVQ construction Heritage plastering. Joe began in November 2017 and is working towards his Level 2 in Plastering on day release, whilst the rest of his week he learns and earns, side by side with the best.

These apprenticeships not only help Catherine to ensure the longevity of her business, but by providing new opportunities for talented individuals to gain hands-on experience, grow their skills inventory and open doors to specialist career paths, Catherine enables a meaningful legacy for her late husband and his highly-valued work. Through resilience, hard work, openness and honesty, Catherine has taken Ryedale Plasterers to new heights of success. Across our region, many other small businesses are doing the same, striving, surviving and thriving, the pride of Yorkshire.


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