After 12 years of growth, The Sparta Security Group is branching out into facilities management. Founder and Chief Executive, Francis Jones, tells PETER BARRON about his latest ambitions…

WHEN Francis Jones launched his own business, his aim was to build it into the number one security company in the north of England.

Twelve years on, Sparta Security Group is well-established at the top of the profession, with a growing list of satisfied clients.

But, as a former professional boxer, Francis has naturally competitive instincts and he has now set himself a new challenge – to take Sparta to the next level as a fully-rounded facilities management company.

He wants Sparta to be more than a security company, by adding a full range of services to the portfolio, including cleaning, welfare, drones, fencing, event and festival security, access control, boarding up, and floodlighting.

“It hasn’t always been easy getting to the top of the security business, but we’ve made it as a result of a lot of hard work aimed at building the trust of a wide variety of clients,” he says.

“Of course, we will continue to provide all of those security services we’re known for, but it’s about adding value so that customers – big or small – can come to us for everything they need on site.

“Our aim is to be a one-stop shop. Yes, we’ll make your business premises, or your home, safe and secure, like we’ve always done. But we can also provide associated services to make life easier, rather than having to go to a number of different providers.”

This new ambition is born out of a dozen years or experience of handling the security for an extraordinary range of clients, with the list continuing to grow despite the global economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, one of Sparta’s successful tenders during the Covid-19 crisis led to a “fantastic” contract with restaurant group Frankie & Benny’s to board up a number of buildings that weren’t being used during lockdown.

Now, with restrictions being lifted and the economy beginning the rebuilding process, new contracts are being added – and they don’t come much bigger than providing security for Father Christmas!

“We’ve had some big names on our client list over the years but we’re particularly proud to include Santa Claus,” laughs Francis.

The contract in question is actually the very serious business of looking after the security around The Polar Express this coming Christmas. PNP Events first booked Sparta to guard The Polar Express – on The Wensleydale Railway – two years ago and were clearly impressed with the service they received.

The magical railway experiences, based on the 2004 movie, couldn’t go ahead last year due to the lockdown, but PNP Events has now re-booked Sparta, not just for the Yorkshire Dales leg of the fairytale train ride to the North Pole, but while The Polar Express is in London and Devon too.

For North-East passengers, the journey begins at Leeming Bar, with the chance to meet characters from the film, including The Conductor, The Singing Chefs, the Hobo, and Santa himself. Hot chocolate and cookies are also served on board to make it a real festive treat.

“Obviously, this is a really prestigious contract that comes with a huge responsibility,” says Francis. “After all, you don’t want anything to get in the way of festive fun, do you? I suppose you could say we’ve been put in charge of Elf and Safety!”

In another illustration of the diversity of Sparta’s duties, the company has recently completed the task of providing security for the three days of the Harrogate Spring Essentials show at The Great Yorkshire Showground.

Organised by the North of England Horticultural Society (NEHS), the event coincided with the 100th year of the iconic Harrogate Flower Show and was the first major gardening show to take place this year.

Bookings to provide security services at weddings have also been coming in thick and fast as couples catch up on lost time by tying the knot at venues across the region.

“We are talking about one of the most special and important days in people’s lives, and it’s our job to make sure nothing spoils it,” says Francis.

Being proactive in preventing crime is what Sparta is all about and Francis takes huge pride when offences are prevented on his company’s watch. One example came at the T. Manners & Sons Construction site, at Bishop Auckland, recently when Sparta engineers installed three CCTV towers and, on the very same night, the security system immediately proved its worth by thwarting a group of intruders.

The thieves had approached from the rear of the site and the high-tech audio system picked them up. A Sparta operations manager was able to sound the alert from 25 miles away so that police units could be on the scene within three minutes, and the intruders fled empty-handed.

“What businesses have to remember is that it’s not just what intruders steal – it’s also the damage they cause in the process,” Francis explains.

“Therefore, it pays to be proactive and get a monitored security alarm fitted to your property, linked to a professional security provider. The cost of protecting your business that way is much less than having to pay for the damage criminals leave in their wake.”

Another new Sparta client taking that proactive approach to security is the Marshall Robertson Group – a hospitality group running restaurants and bistros. “It’s great to have them on board,” says Francis.

And on the subject of preventing crime and anti-social behaviour, Sparta is enjoying repeat business from Richmondshire District Council, to make sure matters don’t get out of hand when Bank holiday crowds gather at Richmond Falls.

“This has become a regular assignment for Sparta on Bank Holidays,” says Francis. “Before we got involved, there were serious Covid breaches, substance abuse, and littering that had to be cleaned up by members of the community banding together.

“Our aim is to make sure none of that happens, and I’m pleased to say there’s been a big improvement now we’re regularly patrolling the site.”

Sparta is also continuing to play its part in supporting the local community, and another recent example is the decision to enter into a three-year sponsorship agreement with Rockliffe Park Cricket Club at Hurworth-on-Tees, near Darlington.

“We’re used to hitting offenders for six, so it seemed a good fit,” smiles Francis.

Just a decent nine iron from the cricket ground, Francis continues to enjoy being a member at Rockliffe Hall Golf Club, and getting his handicap down is another personal target.

“When I teed off at the start of the season, I was labelled Rockliffe’s worst ever player. However, in a recent competition – off a handicap of 37 – I finished runner-up. Now, I’ve set myself a target of entering my first professional tournament in the summer of 22,” he says.

There will, no doubt, be those who mock his ambition – but there were doubters too when he launched The Sparta Group in 2009, and 12 years on, the company goes from strength to strength.

“I just want to be the best I can possibly be in whatever I do and, with God on your side, you can overcome the greatest challenges,” he says.