By Kristy Dorsey

FROM a conversation in a jacuzzi 25 years ago, John Horne and his wife Annemarie have built up a multi-million pound business that is set to mark its silver anniversary with a record financial year and a series of fundraising events to honour their business mentor who made it all happen.

JR Scaffolding – part of Paisley-based construction contractor JR Group – is getting under way on its largest-ever project, a £1 million order for a development of 195 new homes in Erskine. The two-and-a-half year contract is nearly double the previous record from its operations throughout Scotland and northern England.

That order will contribute towards what is expected to be a 33% rise in group turnover in the current financial year, which Mr Horne said should reach £40 million during the 12 months to September. That’s up from £30m previously, when profits checked in at £3.5m.

Spanning its scaffolding, construction and specialist services divisions, JR Group today employs more than 200 people, a far cry from the days in the beginning when JR Scaffolding started out as a man, his wife and a van.

“It was kind of scary,” Mr Horne recalls. “We were doing, you know, 12 or 14 hours a day – I was going out in the van and working on projects, then going out in the evenings to do the estimates on potential new work.

“We had a desk at the end of the bed where Annemarie could type up the quotes at night and send them out the next day. She was also doing most of the work in looking after the kids – to be honest, I think I had the easy part.

“It was long hours, but there were also massive rewards. And thankfully our kids have taken that with them now going forward.”

As a youngster growing up in Govan, he had hoped to one day become a professional footballer, a dream that he managed “to an extent” as a part-timer with Hamilton Accies. Working full-time during the day for national scaffolding contractor SGB, he had to fit in his training during his own time in the evenings.

It was during this period, at the age of 23, when Mr Horne got to know Andy Smillie, the owner of AS Scaffolding Services. It was a conversation in the gym of what was then the Moat House Hotel in Glasgow that led to the creation of JR Scaffolding.

“We just got chatting one night sitting in the jacuzzi and he asked me whether I had ever thought about working for myself,” he explains. “I didn’t really know much about it, but Andy was a great help, giving us advice and space at his address in Dennistoun to operate out of for the first couple of years.”

Named after the initials of his first two children, Josh and Ragan – who were joined in subsequent years by siblings Ellis and Evan – JR Scaffolding graduated to its own premises in Govan where the business was located for 15 years before then moving to its current site in Paisley.

JR Specialist Services was formed in 2009, and today employs 80 joiners providing labour to housebuilders such as Cala Homes. JR Construction was set up in 2015 as a 50-50 joint venture with former CCG managing director Gary McGregor, who also took a 50% stake in the specialist services division as part of that deal.

Throughout it all, Mr Smillie continued to lend his friendship and advice. This was reciprocated, and came into sharp focus following the death in July 2015 of Mr Smillie’s daughter, Emmie, at the age of 34 to cancer.

To honour that relationship, JR Scaffolding is using its 25th anniversary year as a platform for a series of charitable events to raise money for the Emmie Smillie Charity Foundation. This will kick off on April 26 when Mr Horne and others undertake the London Marathon, followed by an anniversary golf day at Turnberry in May and a Christmas Ball in December.

Mr Horne hopes to raise a total of £50,000 for the foundation.

“We owe everything to Andy and his family, his kindness all those years ago which helped us launch the business,” Mr Horne says. “Over the years he’s continued to be a terrific mentor to us both and it seemed only fitting to be able to mark our special anniversary by giving something back to him, albeit in circumstances we truly wish we weren’t talking about.”

Apart from charity fundraising, staff at JR Scaffolding are being treated to a three-night stay in Dubai in September as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without them,” Mr Horne says. “We treat people the way we like to be treated back – everyone here is like family.”

The division’s 55 employees include Mr Horne’s sons Josh, who joined the business 10 years ago, and Evan, who came on board two years ago.

Although Mr Horne and his wife have “a while to go yet” before they retire, there have been changes to the management structure that will pave the way to an eventual hand-over. Annemarie now works part-time in the office, giving her time to look after the couple’s first grandchild, while John has increasingly taken on the responsibilities of business development, leaving more of the day-to-day management to those coming through the senior ranks.

“I think ultimately the plan for myself and Annemarie would be for a staff buy-out of the company,” he says. “We would like to see if there is something we can do, and give these people the kind of chance that we were given all those years ago.”