Former boss of Stamford firm Bowman aims to put collapse behind him

Former Bowman managing director and Ancient and Modern Stamford owner James Deacon
Former Bowman managing director and Ancient and Modern Stamford owner James Deacon
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The man in charge of a 125-year-old building firm that collapsed with debts of £2.6m last year has explained the reasons behind its demise.

James Deacon was managing director of Stamford-based Bowman when it entered administration in March 2012.

Mr Deacon was drafted in the previous year to try and turn the failing Cherryholt Road company around.

He has since set up a new company, Ancient and Modern Stamford, to employ some of his 53 former staff and offer similar services to the Stamford area.

But this week he explained how despite bringing some money in to Bowman with his local works scheme, a combination of historic financial issues and the turbulent economy meant he had no choice but to shut down the company.

Mr Deacon said: “The way it ended left a bitter taste with everyone, myself included. But the legacy got heavier and heavier. It still leaves a few scars.”

When he arrived at Bowman in 2011 Mr Deacon found a company with a recent history of financial trouble.

According to the former managing director, there had been an overestimation of work which led to a false sense of security. Money was owed to a lot of creditors and there had been a failure to chase down debts owed to Bowman itself.

Mr Deacon brought in cost-cutting measures to try and save the firm. He also set up the local works scheme where Bowman tradespeople would charge 50 per cent of their labour fee for work around Stamford as long as the client provided the materials.

Mr Deacon said the scheme was a success, adding: “The phone started ringing and never stopped.

“It ran for three months and then we shut Bowman down.”

He said: “We won some nice work that all put profit in but we were always pulled back by the legacy so we could never move forward.”

Mr Deacon tried to set up a company voluntary agreement to pay back some of the money owed to creditors. But this was unsuccessful and the firm entered administration at the cost of 53 jobs.

Mr Deacon said: “In hindsight we should maybe have called an extraordinary meeting with the main creditors and said what we were thinking of doing.

“But we didn’t have the time to do that because we had so many people knocking on our door.

“But I also think we did everything possible. We were working seven days a week, 24 hours a day trying to find solutions to massive problems.”

The administration process is still ongoing and creditors are unlikely to see much of the money they are owed.

But Mr Deacon now hopes to move on by employing previous Bowman staff in his new venture, Ancient and Modern Stamford, based in Barn Hill.

The company is an offshoot of Ancient and Modern (Projects) Limited, which Mr Deacon set up in 2006 in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. It offers the same local works service to Stamford residents and has already employed 10 former Bowman 

Mr Deacon said: “The idea has always been floating in my head ever since Bowman closed.

“I needed to do this. Stamford still needs the services and if we can utilise the skill level of the old workforce we can offer exactly the same level of work.”

Leaflets were handed out last week and more than 20 inquiries have been made, with Mr Deacon seeing each customer in person.

He added: “I am a former joiner and I don’t want to see our old tradesmen working in supermarkets. I want to see them doing what they are trained to do.

“It could be something as simple as putting a wardrobe together to redecorating or building an extension.”

Mr Deacon hopes to double his workforce in the next six to 12 months and hopes to reach out to as many former Bowman staff as possible.

But he realises a clean break from the old company is needed.

He added: “Bowman needs to be put to bed or we will be looking in the rearview mirror all the time.”

Company is tied to Stamford’s history

Bowman was established in 1886 and was previously known as E Bowman and Sons.

The company is tied to the history of Stamford and worked on many of the town’s listed buildings during its 125-year lifetime, such as the spire and tower of St Mary’s Church back in 1912.

It underwent a rebranding in early 2011 and chairman Peter Loft appointed a new managing director, James Deacon, to try to turn around the firm’s fortunes after a difficult couple of years.

But it eventually collapsed in March 2012 with debts of £2.6m, leaving all 53 staff without jobs.

Joint administrators Chris Stirland, partner at FRP Advisory LLP, and David Broadbent, director at Evolution Business Recovery Services, said at the time Bowman had an annual turnover of £10m to £14m.

It had national and local clients and much of its work came from refurbishing heritage properties.