Q&A with Construction Director, Shane Andrews

Shane Andrews is Construction Director of Earthstone, Stonewood’s groundworks division and, along with Managing Director Neil Blackman, founded the company under the group’s umbrella just two years ago.

In that time it has gone from scratch to a staff of 70 and a £7million turnover in its first year. Away from work he also built a respected career as a no-nonsense centre-half for three semi-professional football clubs, most notably Chippenham Town, for whom he starred in a memorable run to the FA Vase Final at Wembley in 2000 and helped them to promotion to the Southern League a year later.

Was construction your first choice of career Shane? How did you get into the industry?

Like most boys, I dreamt of being a footballer and was on Bristol City’s books. But I was released aged 16 just before signing YTS forms, which was a real blow at the time. Joe Jordan the manager thought I was too small for a defender.

I was disappointed and didn’t really know what I wanted to do but my dad had a groundworking firm working in and around Bristol, Bath and Chippenham so I went to work there from school.

We presume you started at the bottom?

Oh yes, I was there for a while and learnt the trade. I had two other brothers in the business though and they were a bit more hands-on than me. My middle brother Jamie was a machine driver and my youngest brother Ross was a pipe-layer. Eventually dad decided management was the role for me and he pushed me into supervising, site managing and project managing.

And you obviously enjoyed it?

It was great and I really threw myself into it while still training in the week and playing football at weekends. But dad sold the business 15 years ago so I started project managing with another firm. Neil (Blackman) saw my van at a Corsham Town match and asked me to go and work with him so I joined him on a project in Bath. Within a year I was a contracts manager.

I came ‘off the tools’ and I remember being a bit worried about how I’d cope with the management side but I got a lot of support and I really enjoyed that too.

How did you end up working with Neil at Earthstone?

We worked at various firms together and during lockdown when things slowed down I rang Ben (Lang, Chief Operating Officer) at Stonewood. I had known him and Matt (Aitkenhead, Chief Executive Officer) when I was playing for Biddestone at 16 after being released by Bristol City. I asked if there was anything I could do with Stonewood and he told me Neil was already talking to Matt. We had a meeting and out of that we formed the groundworking arm Earthstone and had three weeks to take up the job at The Tannery in Holt.

My two brothers came, my dad was driving a machine and we brought in other people we knew would fit in well and that we could rely on to work to the high standards we set ourselves.

Are you surprised at how quickly Earthstone has grown?

To go from a company that started with nothing and ended up turning over £7 million  last year is incredible but we have had fantastic support from everyone at Stonewood. We are competing for work from Stonewood Builders and Partnerships but we know we have to be competitive and win the job. Our aim is to supply good quality groundworkers for Stonewood projects but we are also going outside the group and tendering for other business.

Your management style is very much one of setting high standards but paying a lot of attention to your workers. Does that reflect what you experienced as a footballer?

I wasn’t the best player in the team ability-wise –  I was all about heading the ball, getting stuck in and stopping people – but my managers, especially Tom Saunders at Chippenham Town, took the time to make me feel like I was the best and I think I’ve learnt from that.

We just want to have a bit of a personal touch so everyone knows they are not just a number. It’s man management, some players need a cuddle and some need a kick up the backside – it’s all about getting the best out of people. We pay a lot of attention to things like mental health and we have had a big push on encouraging people to talk to one another – which isn’t a traditional thing in such a macho environment.

We have just appointed a health and safety advisor and quality control manager because although we have high standards we want to keep pushing ourselves to the next level.

So your playing career has been a good influence on your professional life?

I always wanted to be the best I could and I think I made the best of my career as a footballer. What I achieved as a player, I never dreamt I’d ever get anywhere close to that. At work it’s been the same, I was a groundworker and never thought I’d get to this level. It was just hard work and wanting to be the best I could every day.

I thought I looked after the other players when I played and I try to look after the lads we have working with us now. Sport is a good guide and gives you the discipline when you are training to try and get the end result. A lot of good businessmen have been successful in sport.

But you still miss pulling your boots on?

Of course I miss it. I trained hard because I wasn’t the best ability-wise as the rest of the team. I loved training and going out on a Saturday. It was all about winning for me and if we lost I didn’t speak to anyone. I was the same in training, I even wanted to win the six-a-sides.

These days though I’m supporting my 14-year-old son Alfie, who is learning the game at the Bristol Inner City Football academy and playing for Frampton Rangers. He’s a midfielder, so a bit more progressive than me.

And that day at Wembley in 2000 is still a highlight of your career?

One of them, yes. It was an unbelievable time during the build-up to the final. I was signing autographs wherever I went and being asked to opening school fetes. I was thinking ‘what the hell is happening?’ For a boy born and brought up in Marshfield it was the closest you are ever going to get to being a celebrity.

It was a great day at Wembley and we took 20,000 people from Chippenham. We were the better side on the day but we just couldn’t put the ball in the net and were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Deal Town. Tom built a great side and the club has grown because of what we did.

What made you retire from the game?

When I got to 30 the work/life balance wasn’t working as well as I wanted and we had just had our fourth child. I’d signed for Yate Town and we got promotion there but I decided to pack in because I had a lot of injuries and it was starting to get a bit harder. A lot of the lads I played with had office jobs but I’d be laying slabs and kerbs all day and would then have to go to training with them and run for two hours. I had three operations on my knee and my back started to give way. In my last proper game we beat Bristol Rovers 3-0 in the final of the Gloucestershire Cup. Being a big Bristol City fan, beating them 3-0 at the Memorial Stadium was quite enjoyable.

Can work be that exciting and satisfying?

I really enjoy seeing youngsters progress into roles and being able to give them opportunities. I’ll give you an example, Dan Edwards came to us as a groundworker and we saw something in him so about a year ago we gave him the opportunity to step up and now he’s a site manager. It’s like in football when you see a young lad who you think can progress and you are pushing him to improve. We’ve got four or five others that we have our eye on who can do the same and if we show a bit of investment in these young lads then hopefully they will stay with us.

So you think you’ve helped build a winning team at Earthstone?

Absolutely. We have a really strong, capable team and we’ve all got each other’s backs. We’ve got good people in place, we are well managed, stable and not running before we can walk.

We get the full support of everyone on the board and right throughout the company, including the office staff who are brilliant. It’s not just all about the day to day business side, there’s a personal touch where Matt  wants to know how I am doing and will check everything is okay. I really value that