Sunderland businessman Steve Lynn defies personal tragedy and business challenges to celebrate his 20th anniversary

A Sunderland firm which has survived personal tragedy, recession, and the collapse of one of its biggest clients is celebrating 20 years in business.

By Kevin Clark
Tuesday, 28 May, 2019, 06:00
SJL Brickwork celebrates 20 years in business. MD Steven Lynn with team staff and apprentices

Steve Lynn always dreamed of being bricklayer from being a small boy.

“I left Southmoor school in 1990 and I started the brickwork course at the old Wearside college,” he said.

“I was chuffed as I was learning to do what I wanted to do in life - little did I know how unpredictable the construction industry was at the time.

Steve worked across the North of England and spent three years in Germany, learning his trade: “I must have been sacked around 10 times for making silly mistakes, being too slow or not neat enough, but each time I learnt from the mistakes and I never gave up,” he said.

In May 1999, he decided to start his own business, SJL Brickwork, taking the name from his initials, and placed a small ad in the Echo.

“My first job was a brick pillar gate post in Farringdon,” he said.

The SJL Brickwork 20th anniversary logo

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The company expanded gradually and by 2008, was a limited company, building houses and carrying out bigger commercial jobs around the North East, with a workforce of around 25.

But then the global recession hit and Steve was forced to scale right back to protect the business.

Things gradually recovered and by 2015, SJL had a workforce of 35 and a turnover of more than £1 million, when disaster struck.

The firm was carrying out major projects at the new Premier Inn site in Sunderland city centre and at a large student accommodation block in Newcastle when main contractor GB Building Solutions went bust, owing the company thousands.

“I thought at the time it would be the end of SJL Brickwork as we had our own debts and wages to pay but, again, I just got on with it and weathered the storm,” said Steve.

Personal tragedy struck three times in close succession between 2016 and 2018, when Steve lost both parents and then son Steven.

The 25-year-old, who had worked with his dad and would have taken over the business, contracted flu after developing pneumonia.“With help and support from family, friends and a loyal workforce I am now proud to celebrate the 20th year of business with SJL Brickwork Ltd,” said Steve.

“We’ve had many ups and downs and I look forward to many more years to come. It all started with a small advert in the Sunderland Echo and a bit of persistence.”