During these extremely tough and challenging times we hear from Paul Downer, owner of Oak View Landscapes, this year’s Pro Landscaper Business Awards Supreme Winner. Essex-based Oak View offers a hard and soft landscape installation service for landscape architects, commercial developers and private clients. The company has seen steady growth; it recently invested in a new purpose-built office and last year was awarded Investors in People Gold accreditation. Paul is currently a director (and past president) of BALI and has been in the industry for more than 30 years.
Paul, as honest and frank as ever, said: “I don’t mind telling you it’s been a traumatic time of sleepless nights and a constant dull headache; and in the middle of this crisis, I heard John O’Conner (founder of John O’Conner (Grounds Maintenance) Ltd) – a friend, mentor and landscaping hero – had unfortunately passed away due to coronavirus.”
He says one of the worst parts of continuing to work is not being in control of the situation and having different clients interpreting the guidance in different ways. “One of our teams turned up to site and the gates were locked. Security was on site and we were unable to even get our tools out, whilst a different client expected us to continue as normal.”
Suppliers have also reacted differently, with some taking the decision to close immediately and with little warning. “We had recently taken a delivery of plants that were meant to be going into the ground this week. The real lack of warning, the speed that things were happening, and the safety of my team were playing on my mind. I also needed to consider the business reputation – the public seeing nice, smart, brightly branded vans driving around could have sent out the wrong signals.”
So, Paul decided to take back control. “We decided that we would close all our sites, even the sites that we were under pressure to continue with. Once I had made that decision, rightly or wrongly, I managed to regain control of my thoughts. Though obviously the situation was still difficult, I felt that the safety of my staff was paramount, as was being able to convey a clear and consistent message. One thing I have learnt about myself over the years is that I don’t cope well with indecision and not being in control.
“Like all companies, we rely on our staff, and over the years have built up an extremely skilled and loyal team; we need to make sure that they are okay and fit and healthy to return, so most have now been furloughed.
“We have a senior maintenance man who is keen to look after our sites and just try and keep on top of them and we are happy for him to do this as long as he follows the government guidance in terms of social distancing etc.
“As a very financially secure business, it’s not the financial impact that concerns me but more making sure that we do what is right by our staff, our clients, the landscaping sector and following government guidance, which over the last few days has become clearer regarding construction workers.
“Let’s hope we can all get back to work when safe and the football season can continue and Leeds United secures its promotion to the Premier League!”
Paul’s eagerness to look after his staff and ensure he’s following the right procedures leave little doubt as to why he was the Supreme Winner earlier this year, when we could all gather together to celebrate the Pro Landscaper Business Awards. Oak View Landscapes continues to be an exemplar in the landscaping industry, even in the face of COVID-19.