A local authority grounds-maintenance stalwart who quit the public sector to form his own company last year has won several big contracts and is gearing up for a massive tender blitz.
Stephen Harris, who ran grounds maintenance at Dorset County Council for 18 years, now provides commercial amenity horticulture services across Dorset and the South West with Wessex Grounds Services.
The firm, which comprises six staff including operations manager Iain Hewitt, tackles school grounds, play surfacing and sports pitch upkeep as well as landscaping projects. Harris hopes to employ 12 staff by April.
His team is an accredited installer for Notts Sport children's play surfacing and it has grounds upkeep contractor status for the Rugby Football Union, for which it uses a Same Deutz-Fahr tractor and aerator.
It recently started a major landscaping job worth several hundreds of thousands of pounds at a big property and is also working with Acre Landscapes as well as Himalayan Landscaping.
Harris recently bought two Mitsubishi L200 trucks and a pair of John Deere 1445 mowers. Wessex Grounds Services is also looking to buy renovation kit such as top dressers, over-seeders and fertiliser spreaders.
"There's lot of change in local government and I decided it was time to start my own company," said Harris. "Things are moving very fast and we've just won two three-year contracts."
He added: "We are bringing a bit of competition to Dorset and some good news at a time when morale is so low in the industry.
"I've invested heavily and want good people. I pay good Institute of Groundsmanship rates of pay, bonuses and pensions because I want staff with great skills."
Wessex Grounds Services is targeting a £500,000 turnover by April 2014. Owner Stephen Harris said he is aiming to tender for around 100 jobs for schools in Dorset. Indications suggest "we will pick up a good percentage" from April, he added.