Since 2003, Ashvale Civil Engineering has grown enormously, through perseverance and professionalism

This month (September 2023), Ashvale Civil Engineering (Ashvale) celebrated 20 years of operations. Besides continuing to be a successful enterprise in the inflationary climate that we find ourselves in, or even its long list of happy clients and completed projects, a huge point worth commemorating is how Steve Cunningham, Director, and his team have maintained the organisation’s founding principles.

Since day one, the organisation has truly embodied a family-style ethos, through being established by a mixture of relatives and colleagues. Up until 2003, Steve, his father Mick Cunningham, and their business partner Aled Owen, had all worked for a large groundworks company in Hertfordshire.

Mick’s career there had spanned more than 20 years, and seen him grow from a machine driver into the leader of the enterprise’s construction division. Aled had worked as a quantity surveyor there, and Steve had been taken on straight from school, which allowed him to simultaneously study part-time for his HND in Civil Engineering.

“When we started out on our own,” Steve opens, “me and two other lads worked on a small development in Surrey-on-Thames for a housebuilder. They were obviously pleased with Ashvale early doors, as we are still working for them 20 years later. Initially, my responsibilities generally revolved around working onsite, completing the selling out, and ultimately running the jobs. Dad operated between the sites and the head office: securing more work, delivering materials and plant to locations, and essentially getting the business up and running. Finally, Aled conducted all of our pricing, surveying, insurance work, and account management – we had everything covered.

“Collectively, we had a great work ethic, which we deeply instilled into the company’s foundations, and formed the start of what has grown into an industry-leading business. Over the years, dad was able to utilise his long list of contacts to nurture our workforce, which enabled Ashvale to continually expand as it secured more clients and sites. We got to a point, however, where there physically weren’t the hours in the day for Aled to manage all of the office side on his own. It was around that time that my mum, Dawn Cunningham, came on board to support us, alongside her full-time job, and even my then-girlfriend Joanne joined, as we’d recently started dating,” he continues. “She’s still working with us today, managing all the plant hire accounts, and we’ve now been married for 15 years and have three children! On the other hand, Mum has recently retired, but that takes nothing away from her 18 years of service with the organisation.”

As Ashvale grew from strength-to-strength, it steadily built the incredible reputation that it holds within the UK groundworks industry today. Meanwhile, it has successfully reflected this internally as well, which is demonstrated by the relatively large portion of its workforce that have been with the business for over 15 years. In 2015, however, Mick and Aled were ready for a change of pace. They had both got to a point where they were ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their long, decorated careers, so Steve and a group of colleagues began the process of a management buyout.

“Me, Seamus Cleary, and Michael Cunningham, my younger brother, decided to carry Ashvale on into its next era,” Steve explains. “Seamus had worked with us as a quantity surveyor for a number of years and proven himself to be an invaluable member of the team, so he was perfect to step into Aled’s role. Michael, on the other hand, was one of our best machine operators and had overseen multiple large projects.

“Since the buyout, the three of us have been successfully covering all aspects of running the business, along with our teams, and have actually scaled up Ashvale to an even larger size than before. Today, the organisation supports and works with some of the biggest homebuilders and contractors and manages its own fleet of plant and vehicles. Almost all of our work these days is repeat business, which reflects our commitment to forging long-term relationships with our clientele.

“I’m extremely proud,” he adds, “as I reflect on the company’s history so far, especially to have dedicated the last 20 years of my life to its operations. On a daily basis, we have around 400 people working for us across all of our projects, which is huge when you think about it. From builders’ merchants and delivery drivers to plant hire teams, office staff, and subcontractors, it’s mind blowing to consider how many jobs we’re providing across the country.”

Today, Ashvale mostly resides within the housing industry, with its operations centring around groundworks for housing developments. These include roads and sewers, and all associated foundations up to finished floor level, as well as reinforced concrete frames and basements, and 278 highway works and ground remediation projects. All these areas have contributed to tremendous growth during recent years.

“We’ve benefited from the soar in demand for housing,” Steve elaborates, “there’s been loads more sites becoming available in recent times. This, coupled with our status as a proven business that possess the knowledge and capabilities to carry out work in the correct fashion, has guaranteed us plenty of work. Our clients are always commenting on how easy we are to work with; we’re not commercially driven and always strive to do more for our customers than we’re contractually obliged to. We believe in doing something once and doing it right.

“We’ve recently purchased a new 3.5-acre plot,” he concludes, “upon which we’ll be developing a new 5000-square-foot office complete with yard space and workshops. Besides hosting our anniversary party in November for all the staff, it marks the beginning of the next 20 years of Ashvale, during which we plan to grow even stronger, while maintaining our position as one of the UK’s leading groundworks contractors.”