Heroes or villains? Why it’s time to reassess the home trades

Existing house

One gave a job to a homeless youngster and saw him grow into one of his best employees. A second called by an elderly person’s house on his way home from work, to help change a lightbulb, for no charge. A third has a business that literally lays its own welcome mat at the customer’s front door when it comes to call, as a physical expression of its corporate culture.

These are stories from just thee of the people I spoke to when researching a new report for trade standards body, TrustMark. All could be described as ‘tradespeople’ – the small businesses that come to clean a carpet, landscape a garden, build an extension or decorate in and around our home.

The general public – and even the broader construction industry – seldom pays much attention to tradespeople, unless something goes badly wrong and is picked up by the nation’s media. That’s a disservice to the trade sector. There are 150,000 local firms – many of them sole traders – working across the UK and most are entrepreneurs and businesspeople who are providing essential services 24:7, to safeguard and enhance the value of our most precious asset.

They help their customers achieve the best result for their home, by giving expert advice on a project. They explain the technicalities of the job, and establish a fair working relationship through a contract. They work to a high standard, with minimum mess and inconvenience. They do countless ‘favours’ for the owners of the homes they work in, from taking in parcel deliveries to feeding the cat. And at the same time, they develop desperately needed skills within an industry that struggles to attract recruits, and increase the life chances of young people who may have been let down by other agencies.

Above all, they are promoting professionalism in a world that generally expects the worst of them and describes them as white van men, cowboys or rogues. Carpet cleaner Pawlo Woloszyn actually set up his business, Bright and Fresh, after walking out on an employer with shoddy practices. Now he promotes high standards through his industry body.

Lee Goodwin, head of general builder Oakleafe Property Services, who is the eighth generation to be involved in the running of his family’s building business, sums up the trade professionals’ dilemma. “We are forever trying to justify why we’re not like the guys people see on the telly,” he says.

So next time you come across a tradesperson, take a good look at the person you are dealing with before you dismiss them as a white van man. The sector as a whole may be far from perfect, but it contains numerous professionals who deserve our recognition, our business and our respect.

To read the full TrustMark report, Celebrating today’s trades and the value of professionalism, and the full industry interviews, click here.

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