Contractor in Profile - James Brett

30-year-old James Brett is Managing Director of family-owned firm Edgeley Construction. Having spent a considerable amount of time on sites throughout his life, he leads from the front and drives growth with investment in digital construction and training. Here, James talks to FC&A about his journey to becoming the Managing Director of Edgeley Construction.

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James Brett

is Managing Director of Edgeley Construction

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

I was more or less born and bred on a building site. Like many people who grow up in a family with a business, I was involved from an early age, and you might say I began my training while still at primary school. By the time I was 21, I was leading at least four projects with contract values in excess of £1m from the conceptual stage through to completion, with hands-on skills, management capabilities and design and buildability knowledge.

Being involved in projects since I was a teenager has not only provided me with the skills I need to project manage and run the business now, but it has also given me genuine respect for what it takes to design and construct something well and for the heritage we’re building on now. My father built Edgeley Construction, and I’m taking forward that legacy along with the extraordinary buildings created by generations before us.

Had you always wanted to pursue a career in construction?

I always wanted to be a builder and saw myself working ‘on the tools’ on site when I was younger. But the more experience I gained, the more I grew to love the complexities of delivering the right solution for the site, the client and the project. As my career has progressed, it’s the creative problem-solving process that goes into designing and delivering buildings that really inspires me. As construction professionals, I think we have a responsibility to build on the heritage and innovation in our built environment and to consider how what we do can help to make people’s lives better and deliver social value.

My goal is to preserve the character and traditional craftsmanship previous generations left behind and embrace new materials and methods to create buildings that future generations will admire and protect.

What has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

I live and work in south London, where we’re surrounded by Victorian design, construction and engineering. Even modest homes built during that period are packed with attention to detail and finely-crafted features. That commitment to quality and creativity inspires me to aim for the same high standards on every project while leveraging contemporary advances in sustainability and digital construction.

What has been your most notable project to date?

Our Walton Lodge Laundry project in Brixton is a career highlight for me. It involved the conversion of a former industrial laundry into a mixed-use development and included the demolition of a former factory building, refurbishment of a locally-listed building and construction of a large new-build addition with a basement to the full building footprint. The project required complex design coordination with a curved, four-storey zinc facade, incorporating dormers and inset balconies and a part steel, part concrete frame.

It was a challenging project involving a fully constrained site adjacent to a live railway line. We were able to preserve the heritage building and combine it with a contemporary extension, utilising both traditional skills and modern materials. The result is not only a landmark building that has been repurposed for future generations but also a new community, brought together across apartments, a bar and offices.

How do you approach your projects?

I believe collaboration is central to successful construction; delivery partners have to work together with an understanding that the best outcome for the project is the most important factor in everyone’s remit. We all have skills to bring to the table which, together, are greater than the sum of their parts.

At Edgeley Construction, we see ourselves as an integral part of our clients’ teams and provide a single point of contact to ensure effective communication, cost management and quality assurance. We like to be involved in projects as early as possible because we can often add value and prevent unnecessary costs, delays and buildability challenges if we are able to advise the developer at pre-construction. Our ethos is to make decisions that reduce risk and are best for the project, not our pockets, which means offering the best solutions for buildability, sustainability, operational management and occupier comfort.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

I think the biggest challenge is that it involves a change in mindset. We still have a construction culture that focuses on the build cost rather than whole-life costs, and there is a tendency to select materials and methods that are proven rather than pioneering. As a result, not enough projects take advantage of materials and construction techniques that use renewable resources or have the potential to drive down energy costs, maintenance requirements and replacement intervals. We need to get back to designing buildings that aim to last for centuries, not just decades.

I believe occupiers are helping to drive change in this regard; the more they push for more sustainable buildings, the more the market will shift to answer that demand.

What is your favourite building and why?

I really admire the CopenHill building in Copenhagen, which combines a power plant capable of converting 440,000 tons of waste into clean energy every year, with a ski slope, a cafe and an observation point with breathtaking views of the city. It’s a slightly bonkers and completely ingenious idea for making the most of an industrial urban development to create leisure facilities and a landmark, while contributing to Denmark’s low-carbon goals. It’s a building with the potential to inspire us all to think more creatively about design and construction.

What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

My aim is to build on the company’s traditional strengths and reputation for quality, while preparing to scale up with investment in digital construction, systems and people. We have integrated our processes in Procore and are continuing to explore how we can use digitisation to drive efficiency, accuracy and collaboration. We’ve also been investing in training, particularly in RICS qualifications, and this will continue alongside a programme of recruitment.

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