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Our bathrooms go through a lot. Water and steam both take their toll over time, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the rooms people are most keen to renovate. If you’re thinking of sprucing up your bathroom, here are a few things you could consider.

Upgrade your shower

Many of us dream about having a luxurious rain shower worthy of a five star hotel, so why not speak to a plumber about getting one installed? Modern showers can be decadent while still being eco-friendly and conserving water.

Hire a plumber

Sort your ventilation

Sometimes it can seem impossible to avoid damp and condensation in the bathroom, but a capable fan or ventilation system is designed to handle all the moisture you can throw at it, as long as it’s well maintained. If you need to repair or replace your extractor fan, talk to a competent electrician.

Hire an electrician

Update your tiling

Moldy grouting or sealant is one of the banes of bathrooms, while cracked tiles can lead to greater damage of the wall behind. Even if they’re all intact, replacing your tiling can be a relatively quick and inexpensive way to refresh your bathroom.

Hire a tiler

Add some new hardware

Even small details can give a big impact, so don’t neglect the minor aspects of your bathroom, like cabinet handles, door hooks and the toilet-roll holder. If you want an even bigger impact, you can go all out and update the toilet, basin, and bath itself.

Hire a bathroom fitter

Expand your storage

If you’re constantly running out of space for your toiletries, towels, and all the other things that build up in a bathroom, why not add some in-built storage? A talented carpenter can help build bespoke shelves or cupboards to fit the most awkward spaces

Hire a carpenter

 

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When you meet Rob Joy today, you’ll find a confident, outgoing family man, leading a team of 15 painters and decorators as the head of his company, Finishing Touch Services. But this wasn’t always the case, 10 years ago you would have met a very different person indeed.

We met Rob not on a building site, but in a charity shop and community centre in the heart of Luton. SOAR is the base of Rob’s church and charity, Kingdom Cause Community, and the ambitious project has all been made possible through the achievements of Finishing Touch Services. Like many successful tradesmen, Rob started out on the tools as a youngster, but his career didn’t always go smoothly.

“My dad had a roofing company which was quite successful, so weekends and school holidays I’d go along and help out labouring for him,” Rob told us. “ I’d be on building sites and scaffolding when I was so young that my dad would have to tell me to duck if the police came past! But I’d get my five pounds for the day sweeping up broken tiles and what not, so I was happy.”

Sadly for Rob, the happiness didn’t last. Rob’s world was shattered when his beloved dad died, and the teenager soon found himself headed off the rails. “I hit rock bottom,” he admits. It went from flirting with drugs at the weekend to going in at the deep end. My dad left me a lot of money and I threw it all away on drugs, down the pub, at the football. From the age of 16 to 26 I was in it. The drugs destroyed me – I was 8 stone, my mental health had gone, I’d been in and out of prison. I literally lost everything.”

Rob’s journey back to sobriety was fueled by faith. “My mum had always prayed for me and I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t deny the change I’d seen in her – whether it was real or not, it had an impact for her. I remember, one night, I just said, ‘God, is there any way you can change a man like me,’ and for the first time in years I went to bed with no fear, no paranoia. I woke up the next day completely and utterly transformed. No one could tell me it was just willpower – my mind had changed, my heart had changed.”

 

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The pleasure of painting

 

Despite this transformation, it took time for Rob to build himself back up, reconnecting with his family, and getting back into work. “I knew that roofing might not be for me – all the angles and the maths were too much to get my head round! But I’d done other jobs with my dad, painting here and there, and thought I could make a go of that. One of the first jobs I did when I got straight was painting those temporary buildings that go on building sites, just one after the other, and I enjoyed it. Painting is therapeutic.”

From those small beginnings, Rob began to build his experience. “I had this philosophy, short term loss for long term gain,” he explained. “For example, I did a job repainting a door, and I thought it would be simple, half a day’s work. But it wasn’t at all, it was falling apart, I had to take it back to bare wood, do loads to it, it took me much longer. I lost out on that job. But a few months later, I took on another door job, and I realised it was exactly the same situation, but now I knew exactly what to do.”

Rob joined MyBuilder two years ago, and soon realised that the feedback system would force him to up his game. “When you’re working for family, friends, friends of friends, they can say nice things but it’s not always the most honest. When you’re winning work on MyBuilder, that feedback is real. I realised maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – you have to improve.” The feedback for the business still has a negative review from his early efforts, but with more than 100 pieces of positive feedback, he hasn’t let it stand in his way.

Like many setting up their own business, it was a case of long hours and low pay. “I’d do 17 hour days, out on site until it was dark, back to kiss my kids before bed, then out to quote, writing it up before bed, then waking up realising I’d missed something.”

Rob began to build the company, eventually bringing in other people to help. “The best thing I did was take on a guy called Alan, who’s now my business manager. He’d been in the trade for 35 years, and his skills, his ability, they’re brilliant. I used to be annoyed that he was slower than other guys I worked with, but I realised, his jobs never had any snags. It might be a day slower, but it was perfect – never any stress. So I went to him and said, look, I might be the one paying you, but I want you to teach me how to be a good painter and decorator. I was humble. And so for six months, he showed me what he knew. It helped me get better, helped me understand the materials and the techniques, helped me quote on jobs.”

As he says: “You can’t be a great decorator in a few years – you have to do it for years and years, always learning. You end up breathing it.”

 

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A matter of standards

 

The business is now up to 15 men, and Rob hopes to add more in the coming year. “I wouldn’t want it to get too big, because what I’m concerned about is quality,” he said. “I tell the boys, I don’t expect them to have the same faith as me, but I expect them to work to the standards I do.”

Profits from the business go into supporting the charity, helping both in the local community, and in Malawi. “I’m all about going out into the streets,” Rob said, “I never wanted to be preached at and I still don’t. It’s about helping someone who’s starving with some food, or giving a coat to someone freezing.” In Malawi, the charity is looking to buy land in order to start work on an orphanage, with some of Rob’s team ready to go out and work on the project themselves.

“We went there in April, took some guys from work and it’s changed their life. We took loads of toys and clothes, it was incredible. It broke my heart. I came back and said to my wife, the business isn’t for wealth, for big houses and fast cars, it’s for this.”

The lads will be hands on when it comes to the orphanage: “The standards of construction over there aren’t always great,” Rob laughed. “But we’ll be able to to really do some good there. We do as much as we can. We send out money for the women in the community to buy materials and make bags, which we sell here in the shop, with the profits going back to them. And we sell second-hand clothes in here, with those that don’t sell going directly to the kids there.”

Rob doesn’t make a point of telling homeowners where the money from their jobs will be going, but when it comes up, he says they’re always happy to hear more. “The customers are amazing, so many of them are now friend, they donate, they come and help out.” He always tries to lend a hand where he can where customers are in need – through a contact at Dulux, he has access to discount paints that can be used for worthy causes or sold on to raise money. He’s also happy to hear from any other tradesmen who are keen to help out on charitable projects for worthy causes.

Through Rob’s efforts, both the business and the charity have continued to grow, but he insists it’s still the quality, not the quantity, that matters most. “One thing I always say to my guys is that it’s not the past hundred jobs that matter – it’s the one we’re working on right now.”

 

Advice for tradesmen:

  • Always be willing to learn: “I still meet young guys who come from doing professional qualifications who think they know everything, but they don’t”, Rob said. “When you’re working with people with lots of experience, there’s always something you can take from them.”
  • Prepare accurate quotes: “The biggest source of issues on any job is if there was something in the quote that wasn’t clear,” Rob told us. “A tradesman should lay out everything, materials, hours, who pays for what, so that there can’t be any quibbles.”
  • Think long term: “No one can be great at something overnight,” Rob said. “You have to think about the long term, building your skills and growing the business. It can’t be rushed.”

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Recently, we went to meet a MyBuilder tradesman in Oxfordshire building a stunning home extension from straw bales. Natural materials and careful craftsmanship were being skilfully combined to build something useful, beautiful and eco-friendly.

While building out of straw may not be the most practical route for everyone, there are plenty of things you can start doing to help make your home more green. Here are some steps you can take to cut your carbon footprint.

 

Insulate Your Home

One of the biggest steps you can take to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to make sure it is properly insulated. Both loft insulation and cavity wall insulation can help reduce the amount of heat wasted, especially in older homes.
Find an insulation installer

 

Fit Double Glazing

Double glazing doesn’t have to mean typical white plastic frames – modern windows can be both stylish and efficient, keeping the heat in, cutting bills, and making your home greener.
Find a window fitter

 

Upgrade Your Boiler

Efficiency is the name of the game, so installing a modern condensing boiler is a great way to invest in improving your home’s energy usage.
Find a gas engineer

 

Install a Water Saving Shower

While lots of us are good at turning off the tap when we brush our teeth, we can all be guilty of spending too long in the shower. Modern showers can reduce the water used, without cutting the flow to a dribble.
Find a plumber

 

Use Eco-friendly Paint

Many traditional paints can cause environmental damage in their production. Eco-paints are often plant-based, using naturally occurring solvents, and are catching up with traditional paints in terms of price and effectiveness.
Find a painter and decorator

 

If you have any more ideas for kick starting a green transformation in your home, get in touch with a tradesman today.

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For tradesmen just starting out on MyBuilder, winning work and building up feedback can seem like a daunting challenge. We spoke to Sammy Nartey, who’s been on the site for just over six months, to find out how he navigated his early days on the site.

Unlike many tradesmen, Sammy was a relatively late starter when it came to picking up the tools. The Battersea-based kitchen fitter first became interested in being a tradesman when he started doing renovation work on his own house, nearly 20 years ago.

“I had bought my own property and decided to learn how to put it together myself, doing the tiling, the bathroom, the kitchen, that sort of thing,” he told us when we met him on a kitchen refit job in Camberwell. “I did most of it just from reading a DIY book – that’s where I started. I built up my skills, and then got a job with a company called Apollo, a company that does work for housing associations. They took me on as a multi-trader doing plumbing, carpentry and electrical.” The trade bug soon caught hold: “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

After spending a few years building up his professional experience, Sammy decided to go it alone, setting up his own company, Westridge Developments Ltd, focussed on kitchen and bathroom fitting, plumbing and tiling. In the early days, Sammy’s methods for finding work was as simple as it comes: “I was mainly doing it through word of mouth, just giving cards out to people,” he said. “I didn’t even have my company name on the van for a while. I was just working for people who knew what I did, and waiting for people I worked for to recommend me to other people.”

 

Taking the Plunge

 

Looking for a way to bring in more work, last October Sammy decided to take the plunge and join MyBuilder. He breezed through the application process testing his experience; as he put it, “If you have the knowledge, it’s easy to show – if you try and blag it, you won’t know the answers. But some people like to blag their way through life”. After being accepted onto the site, he was soon receiving leads for jobs in his area.

“I think I get around 50 or 60 jobs come my way every day on MyBuilder,” he said. “I have to sift through them and I don’t win all of them – I don’t expect to win all of them – but it’s enough to keep me going!”

Since he started out, Sammy has now spent £500 expressing interest, winning 24 jobs and counting, as well as getting feedback for most of them – all of it positive. When asked if he thought the site was value for money, he said: “Most definitely! What we pay, we get a lot in return. I think it’s more than reasonable – that’s why I recommend friends join as well.”

He admits it’s not always plain sailing: “There have been a couple of times when I’ve been shortlisted for a job and then tried to contact the person, but they don’t answer. I left messages, and they never got back to me. It would be an irritation, but if you compare what you lose and what you get back, it’s a massive difference – you get more out of it than you lose.”

What’s even better for Sammy is the follow-up work he’s won after doing jobs through the site. “Three or four people I’ve done work for have then had me back for other jobs. One guy calls me regularly. And when they see you doing good work, they’re more likely to refer you to their friends.”

When asked what key advice he’d give to other tradesmen just starting out, Sammy’s message is all about quality and honesty.

“Stay true to yourself,” he said. “Do your job properly, because MyBuilder works.”

 

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For Lewis Sage, it’s the little things that count.

“Everything is run precisely, military style,” he tells us as we stand on top of the scaffolding of his latest renovation project. “A lot of people wouldn’t like it, but I think I’m doing something right. My team does everything the right way, right down to the details, like keeping the skip covered all the time so rubbish doesn’t blow down the street. You have to think about the other people who live here.”

Lewis, the boss of UPS Home Improvements, which takes on major project work around Essex and London, takes his responsibilities seriously. When Storm Doris hit, it blew debris from the roof his team were working on down the next door neighbour’s chimney, covering their living room in soot. “It was an act of God,” Lewis said, “nothing we could really do about it, but out of courtesy to the lady, I said ‘send me a cleaning bill’, and I got one of my team to go in and repaint the ceiling. You’ve got to be good to people, you’ve got to keep people on side. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to.”

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Communication, Communication, Communication

Dealing with people is key to Lewis’ success as a tradesman. Despite the fact his firm takes on large projects – mainly renovations, extensions, and loft conversions – he has managed to rack up 170 pieces of feedback during eight years on MyBuilder, and all of them positive. “The secret is communication with clients. I always make sure I return an email or a phone call in two hours. It’s the least I can do to keep them informed and not leave them guessing.”

Lewis realised early on his career that he wanted to be overseeing a site and running projects. “I was made to be management!” he laughs. “I went to college and did all the City & Guilds qualifications, and went out working on the tools. My dad was in the building trade and we worked together for a bit, before I went to work with someone else. After a while I became a working supervisor, then a non-productive supervisor, so I wasn’t actually on the tools myself.” After stopping being hands on, he worked for five years as a contracts manager for a refurbishment company, before he started thinking about going it alone. “I finally did it about 10 years ago, just me and a couple of other guys. I had to go back on the tools in the early days when we were starting out – the money wasn’t there to hire anyone else.”

Starting his own business meant long hours. “When I first started on my own, I was working during the day, going home for a bit of dinner, then going back out again until late at night to meet people and do quotes. People want to do it then, because they’re at work all day, so you have to do it. But it meant 16, 17-hour days. It’s a bit easier now because I’ve built up my reputation through MyBuilder, but it’s still spinning plates.”

As for whether or not he misses getting his hands dirty regularly, he says: “I had fantastic times on site. I loved the banter. But I think I’m better at what I do now.”

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Strictly Business

Lewis relies on a personally selected crew to make his projects go smoothly, and admits he’s a strict boss. “I want staff that work well, I don’t allow any smoking, any swearing, they’re all kitted out properly, they’re all punctual, here for 8am and no messing around. But it means these boys can stay in work every day of the week, that’s the bottom line. All of my tradesman have been handpicked. Down the line, a few of the experienced ones might recommend some other people, but bottom line is, they’re handpicked by me. I’ve got to guide the ship, so I need the best.”

He has the capacity to take on two or three projects at a time, with the ability to be choosy about the jobs he takes on, preferring to go for jobs where the plans are already in place: “I’d say through MyBuilder I probably get something like eight shortlists a week. I don’t win every job I go and price, but if I like the job, I’ll really go for it. I want to get into the meat of it, because I love it. I love it. In my reviews, some people have said I’ve given them their dream home – how nice is that? People are spending their life savings on these jobs, so to know you’ve made a difference, you’ve given them their dream home, that’s brilliant. It makes you feel special.”

He acknowledges that feedback is crucial for winning work on the site, but says it’s the best way to hold tradesmen to account. “With MyBuilder, if you’re no good, you won’t last. You just won’t. You’ve got to keep the feedback up, once you build up bad reviews you’re sunk. It means sometimes you have to be a bit of a yes man to clients, be very approachable. If you can have those qualities, you can be flying. Of course you get the odd client who’s a pain, we all know that. But I can get on with anyone. You manage the customers just like you do your team.”

He added: “I always tell people to leave feedback. When someone leaves a review, it helps the next person – that’s what I tell them.” Once he’s actually meeting potential clients and quoting for work, that’s when he opens his contact book: “When I win jobs or I’m looking at them, I say I’m not scared about showing off my job. This current guy, he came and saw two of my previous jobs. When you leave people on good terms, they don’t mind when you phone up and say ‘can I pop round?’ It’s a different level from just showing someone a picture. And they can talk to the old client, and hear about how you work.”

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A Lifetime of Service

He insists on keeping customers on side, just as he does the neighbours: “The way I see it, just because you’ve paid that final payment, doesn’t mean you’re not a client any more. You’re a client of mine for the rest of your life. I won’t turn my back on you just because you’d paid up. It wouldn’t make sense for me – you’re cutting off all those people, all their recommendations.”

However, he’s wary of taking on too many jobs, or jumping in too quickly. “Just because you’re doing alright you can’t be greedy, when you’re greedy you stretch yourself, and when you stretch yourself mistakes happen. We know what we need to do, we know what our margins are. I like to take on the jobs where everything is ready to go. When someone says to me something like ‘we’re in the process of purchasing a property and thinking about renovating it’, I’m not as interested. In my view, if you have the drawings, if you’ve spoken to the council, if you’re ready to go, let’s go for it. I want to get stuck in.”

Thanks to his attitude, Lewis will be busy for the rest of the year, before taking some well-deserved time off after Christmas. Then he and his team will be straight back to work; nice and punctual, of course.

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Don’t get greedy: While Lewis admits it’s tempting to go for every job that comes through or follow up with every personal recommendation, he knows he has to limit the number of projects he takes on. “Like I said, when you’re greedy, you get stretched, and when you’re stretched, mistakes happen. Deep down, you know if you’re pushing your luck.”
  • Communication is crucial: As well as trying to answer all calls and emails within a couple of hours, Lewis likes to ensure things go smoothly face to face as well. “When I’m quoting, I’ll take along John (his regular foreman) so they can meet him as well, and everyone knows from the get go who’ll be there and how it works, you don’t need to explain anything twice.”
  • Consider the neighbours: According to Lewis, one of the best things you can do to keep up your reputation is think about not just the home you’re working on, but the whole street. “If you’re considerate, that helps you. You never know who’s going to want to get their house done next.”

 

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For the past month, we’ve been looking for the worthiest winner of a garden makeover. We know how much people value their outdoor space and wanted to find the people who most deserved to have their garden transformed into a beautiful and practical place to spend time.

We were overwhelmed with entries, with hundreds of people from around the UK sharing their stories with us, and more than 30,000 people voting for the gardens they most wanted to see get a well-earned facelift. Picking a winner from the most popular entries was a difficult process that divided the judges, but eventually we found our winner.

Megan Rees from Oxford entered the competition hoping to the change the life of her three-year-old daughter, Ariella. When Ariella was born, she was given just a 10% chance of survival, with a number of rare conditions including CHD and Nager syndrome. Her devoted parents have had to give up work to care for her around the clock, yet despite her disabilities, she has a passion for life and loves being outside and exploring.

 

Megan and Ariella's garden is in need of some TLC

Megan and Ariella’s garden is in need of some TLC

 

Megan says: “Ariella is the strongest person I know, she is always happy and takes life as it comes. If there is anyone who deserves to have a special garden to play in it would be her – this incredible girl doesn’t let anything stop her.”

We agreed, and in the coming weeks we’ll be working with Megan and local tradespeople to transform Ariella’s garden, turning it into a safe and fun place for her to play. We’ll be sharing the whole transformation here on MyBuilder, so watch this space!

 

Ariella loves being outdoors and exploring

Ariella loves being outdoors and exploring


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