ONE of the north’s most successful security companies continues to blaze a trail, despite the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. PETER BARRON reports

Former professional boxer Francis Jones is a man who has always taken pride in his results.

And the boss of the Sparta Security Group takes particular satisfaction when the challenge has been as important and high profile as looking after the security of the North-East’s newest fire station.

The station, in Darlington town centre, was recently handed over to County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service by construction company Tolent after a year-long contract.

The old fire station, built in 1972, had become unfit for purpose, so the decision was taken to demolish it and build a new one, with Sparta being entrusted with the task of keeping the site, and all its equipment, secure day and night.

“Every job we are given is important to us, and we want to get the right results for every client,” says Francis. “But we saw this as a special honour because it involves the emergency services – heroes who are dedicated to saving lives – and I’m delighted to say that there wasn’t a single incident on our watch. That makes me happy.”

The site, on St Cuthbert’s Way, was guarded round the clock with task force officers, backed up with high-spec CCTV cameras, and is now safely in the hands of the emergency services after the official handover.

Businessiq: Francis Jones with Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve HelpsFrancis Jones with Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve Helps

It is hoped that an official opening can take place later in the year, once the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

In the meantime, Graham Wood, Tolent’s senior site manager, is happy with the fact that the contract was completed on time without any security issues: “The job Sparta did was excellent throughout – absolutely spot on, so we’re really pleased,” he says.

It is now 12 years since Francis launched Sparta and the company continues to build on an already impressive and varied customer base.

“You never know what the job is going to be when the phone rings, and I like that because it keeps things interesting,” he says.

Looking after a fire station was another first for the Darlington-based business but, over the years, responsibilities have included guarding everything from industrial sites, historic estates, holiday locations, farms, celebrities, politicians, and even the Coca-Cola Christmas truck as it toured the country.

With 120 staff on the books, many of them ex-military, Francis has set a target of hitting a turnover figure of £3m for the next financial year. “We’re ambitious, we want to keep growing,” he says.

Other new clients this year include Meldrum Construction Services Ltd, which is widening the lanes on the A19, at the junction close to the National Trust’s Mount Grace Priory in Northallerton.

Sparta is also providing security for another construction company, T. Manners & Sons Ltd, which is developing social housing on the site of the former King James School, in Bishop Auckland. With the school once attended by Stan Laurel, it is another high-profile site.

Francis is also delighted to have secured the advisory services of one of the region’s most respected business leaders in Mike Matthews, who stepped down as managing director of Teesside-based car parts manufacturer Nifco, in 2019, after 30 years with the company. Awarded the MBE for services to business, he has launched Mike Matthews Business Consulting.

Businessiq: Sparta boss Francis Jones at the new Darlington Fire StationSparta boss Francis Jones at the new Darlington Fire Station

As well as having an executive chairman’s role with a manufacturing business, Custom Insulation, in Burton-on-Trent, Mike is providing expert advice to a portfolio of businesses, while also prospecting ownership opportunities.

Sparta is part of the portfolio for a day a month. “Francis has ambitions for the business, so I’m giving him strategic business advice to help him plan for growth more effectively,” says Mike. “It’s going to be interesting to see things develop this year.”

And Francis knows all too well from his days in the boxing ring the value of having a good coach. “You have to listen to people with a track record, who’ve been there and done it, so it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to work with someone of Mike’s calibre,” he says.

Part of Sparta’s ambitions for growth include plans to launch a new arm of the business this Spring, to crack down on rural crime, using former police officers with expert knowledge of countryside beats.

The aim is to set up “Sparta Beat Bobby Ltd” on a three-month trial, with officers operating in unmarked vehicles, in designated criminal hotspots, at random times throughout the week, and relaying information direct to the police.

“I’m convinced there is a real need for this kind of service to be introduced into rural areas because the police can’t be everywhere and the gaps need to be plugged with an element of privatisation,” he says.

The idea is to create a crime-fighting scheme that would be managed in partnership with the community itself. One of the first areas to be targeted will be Teesdale, where the company is seeking to place five officers, each working 16-hour weekly shifts – equating to 320 hours of surveillance each month. To cover the costs, Sparta hopes to generate £5,000 shared between more than 200 farms in that area – that’s £25 a month per farm.

“I’m passionate about making it happen, so we are wanting to hear from ex-police officers with the skills and knowledge to join us, along with farmers and landowners in rural communities who can see the value in getting it off the ground.”

Another priority for 2021 is to drive significant improvements in the company’s carbon footprint by streamlining the business wherever possible and investing in “an exceptional level of digitisation”, including high-grade CCTV systems and alarm notifications, to boost the efficiency of guarding against crime.

“It’s a responsibility we all have to protect the planet, and look after our animals, as The Bible declares in Proverbs ‘Whoever, is righteous has regard for animals’. We want to play our part by upping our game in everything we do, and making a difference,” says the Sparta boss.

For Francis Jones, it really does all come down to results.

To find out more about opportunities with The Sparta Security Group, or to discuss security services tailor-made for your business, go www.spartasecurityuk.co.uk