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Digital Innovation Grant helps family-run joinery business nail growth ambitions

A family-run joinery business, which carved out a niche restoring and conserving some of Sheffield’s best known historical buildings, has boosted its production capacity by over 50% after securing grant funding from the South Yorkshire Digital Innovation Grant scheme.

Father and son Robert and Lee Crookes founded their traditional joinery business Crookes and Son in 2010, and since that time the Hillsborough-based business has successfully breathed new life into a wide range of historical buildings ranging from pubs, libraries and even listed buildings and stately homes.

Built on the skills master carpenter Robert refined during his 50-year career, which began in the early 1970s, the business continues to use many of the traditional skills that can take more than a decade to learn. Although much of their work  has concentrated upon producing the handmade windows and doors used in historical buildings, in recent years, the company recognised that changes in the way wood is treated can mean that the wooden frames it manufactures can provide an eco-friendly alternative to uPVC double glazing.

Having spotted a niche in the market, and with rising demand for the company’s wooden framed double-glazed windows, which can last for more than 60 years, Lee and Robert recognised that they needed to embrace new forms of technology in order to fulfil their growing order book.

Working with Business Sheffield, Lee and Robert successfully secured grant funding, enabling it to invest in a programmable CNC tenon machine, to create the traditional mortice and tenon joints used in their work. With funds secured to purchase the machine, the company then successfully secured a Digital Innovation Grant, which was used to purchase the software needed to automate the production process.

The investment has successfully helped Lee and Robert to increase production by more than 40%, allowing them to fulfil their growing order book. At the same time, the new machinery has also helped the company to reduce waste, as well as eliminating the need to hand finish the joints.

Such has been the success of the new machinery that the company is planning to make further investments in additional machines, as well as recruiting new apprentices to pass on the skills that have been handed down from father to son.

Lee Crookes, Director, Crookes & Son Traditional Joinery, said:

“When we first launched the business, we largely relied upon many of the traditional carpentry skills, which can take many years to develop and refine. Like many businesses, we’ve adapted and evolved, but all the equipment we use has been funded by ourselves.

Specialist equipment can be a significant business investment, and as a small family-run business, we knew that although purchasing the mortice and tenon machine would help us to increase our levels of production, to make the most of  the machine we would also need to invest in the CNC software, which would automate many of the processes we previously did by hand. We spoke to Business Sheffield, who told us about the Digital Innovation Grant scheme, and with funds in place it transformed our business almost overnight. 

The funding we’ve received from the Digital Innovation Grant has meant we’ve been able to help more homeowners to benefit from long-lasting timber-framed double glazed windows, which can last in excess of 60 years due to the way in which the wood is treated, and we’re also planning to recruit new apprentices to teach them   the traditional skills our business has been built on.  They’ve also been quick to embrace the new technology we’ve invested in, and it’s given us the confidence to invest in additional equipment in the future.”

Andy Sorby, Business Adviser, Business Sheffield, said:

“The Digital Innovation Grant is a unique grant scheme that helps small and medium sized businesses to secure match-funding to invest in technology. I’ve worked with Crookes & Son for some time now; they recognised that the software needed to drive their new mortice and tenon machine would be transformative for their business. The support they’ve received has not only helped the company to significantly increase productivity but also create opportunities for the next generation.”

The Digital Innovation Grant scheme was launched in July 2021 and helps SME businesses across South Yorkshire to access match-funded grants to help them embrace new ways of working to improve productivity and growth and enter new markets.

The programme funds up to 50% of projects with costs totalling £2,000-£10,000. It is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and is delivered across South Yorkshire by Enterprising Barnsley, part of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.

About the Digital Innovation Grant Scheme

The Digital Innovation Grant (DIG) programme supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in South Yorkshire to develop their use of digital technology. By exploiting the digital technologies, businesses can access new markets, introduce new products and services more effectively and develop new cost-effective ways of working.

The scheme will enhance the digital capabilities of SMEs by raising the confidence of SMEs in using digital technology and will support them to increase their levels of productivity and competitiveness to achieve business growth.

DIG will be delivered through a competitive process, rather than first come first served. Following a call for applications, completed applications will be assessed for eligibility then ranked according to a number of economic and inclusive growth indicators. The grant funding will be available for up to 50% of the value of an investment, with a minimum award of £1,000 up to a maximum of £5,000.

Applicants will apply via a web portal that will manage the process from start to finish and give clarity to both the applicants and BMBC, allowing all parties to see where each application is in the process and its current status.

The Digital Innovation Grant Programme is an ERDF funded project and Barnsley MBC are the accountable body. The project is receiving up to £1.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) is the Managing Authority for the European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

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