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Author of the Housebuilder's Bible, Mark Brinkley reflects on 20 years of SIPS@Clays

Published 7th February 2024

SIPS@Clays was founded by Ian and Alison Clay in 2003 whilst they were running a successful housebuilding business and were looking at ways of transforming the business to make it more efficient. I’ve known SIPS@Clays for most of the intervening years but it was only recently that I had the chance to catch up with them and discover the history of how it all began…

Boston Spa One of SIPS@Clays first SIPs Developments in 2003

Boston Spa One of SIPS@Clays first SIPs Developments in 2003

Dial back to November 2003 and Ian had 14 homes to build and he was in a hurry. He wanted to shave 3 or 4 months off the build time and he reckoned off-site construction was the answer.

Co-incidentally, it was just at this time that Structural Insulated Panel Systems (SIPS) were being introduced to the UK market by the Irish building conglomerate Kingspan and Ian thought they might be a good solution to his problem. The panels were slightly more expensive than conventional timber frame, the standard way of doing off-site construction, but they were faster to put together, better insulated and were simpler to finish. They were particularly useful if you wanted big open roof spaces. All in all, SIPS seemed like a compelling offer and Ian thought this new kid on the block was worth a try. So, drawing a deep breath, redrew the plans for these 14 homes and built them out using these ’new-fangled’ SIPS panels.

Would they work as advertised? Did it all stack up financially? Would they use them again? The answers turned out to be yes, yes and yes.

Two years later in 2005, Andy Porter joined Ian as Partner and the success of what was an initial trial, has spawned a thriving business with the same two guys still at the helm. Alongside them now, three additional partners and an enviable record of high standards, dependable delivery and satisfied clients.

Stage Two of the SIPS@Clays story started with a decision by Ian to stop the existing development company and to switch all their energies into this new way of building. Andy commented: “When we started out, we weren’t really sure what our limits were, but over time we have grown more and more confident and now we have no qualms taking on complex, high-end projects, as well as larger extensions both at ground level and in the roof. This sort of work is generally rather more exacting than straightforward developer-style houses, but our capabilities have steadily grown over the years.”

To promote the new business, Ian and Andy needed a steady stream of new customers and so they became regular stand-takers at the many and various self-build exhibitions and this remains an important source of future work for them. These shows were where I first met them and I was immediately drawn to them by both their charm and their enthusiasm, but also by the fact that they were obviously very hands on. Come Monday, they’d be back on the factory floor, sorting out the cutting lists for the next job.

They’ve kept the business relatively simple by providing SIPS design, fabrication and installation only and they don’t get involved in turnkey projects where you take on the finishing trades as well as the structure.

Today, their Skipton-based business produces around two new home packages every week and builds all over the UK. They employ eight people in their factory and in their nearby design studio, as well as having four onsite erection crews who travel the length and breadth of the country.

Photo: Author of the Housebuilder's Bible, Mark Brinkley reflects on 20 years of SIPS@Clays

Whilst the bulk of their business is with private clients, much of this high-end Grand Designs-style projects, up to a third of their workload is producing more cost-effective solutions for housing developers.

“One of the big changes we’ve seen over the years,” said Ian, “is that when we began doing the self-build shows, the people we were talking to had no idea what we were up to. We had to explain what SIPS were all about.

These days, everyone we meet seems to know about SIPS and what they offer, so that we can have a much more focussed discussion from the off.” Their projects have featured on the TV self-build shows and there are many places where novices can learn the ins and outs of SIPS, not least the SIPS@Clays website which is stacked full of background information and instructive videos.They are true pioneers of the UK SIPS building scene and are in fact the original Kingspan TEK Delivery Partner. Their work involves a number of cutting-edge techniques, yet what strikes you most about SIPS@Clays is the timeless values embedded within the business. They are a very down to earth lot: no gimmicks, no fancy sales patter, no talking you into fancy extras, no empty promises. It’s no surprise they have become the No 1 SIPS provider in the country and I look forward to following their progress in the years to come.

Mark Brinkley
Author of the Housebuilder’s Bible
December 2023