A heritage building firm which has traded in Norwich for four generations and counts the Queen as one of its customers has gone into administration with the loss of 24 jobs.
Staff at Royal Warrant-holder WS Lusher & Son were told on Friday that the firm's mounting losses has grown too steep for it to continue. An attempt to secure a lifeline for the business by selling its two-acre Sprowston site this year has so far been fruitless and more than half of its employees have been let go.
Managing director Mark Lusher, whose grandfather William founded the business in 1924 said: "We have given it everything we've got to make it work but we've been up against too many factors."
The remaining employees at the firm which has built a reputation for restoring churches, stately homes and historic buildings, will complete its final contracts. Catherine Grummit's 52 year old husband Tim has worked for the business since the age of 16 when he joined as an apprentice. He is one of the lucky ones who have been kept on but Mrs Grummit, 51 of Dereham Road, said she was unsure what would happen when the remaining work was complete in about six weeks. "It is a bit of a shock," said the mother of two. "They have tried to keep the business going all this time and during the recession all the staff took a pay cut to keep going."
WS Lusher is one of the few remaining building firms which directly employs all of its staff, most now bring in subcontractors according to their workload. But although cutting out contractors removed an element of risk for more difficult projects, Mr Lusher previously said it was a tough policy through the drought of the financial crisis. "It was difficult to stay by them all in the last eight years with the recession, but we are glad we did, he said. "We didn't lose anyone."
But now the cash has finally run out and there are hopes the struggling business can be sold as a going concern with Norwich-based rescue specialists McTear Williams & Wood brought on board to find a buyer.
WS Lusher has held a Royal Warrant for its work on Sandringham House since 1978 and administrator Andrew McTear said the company's strength was its long standing reputation and skill base. "The problem was the company was loss making and eventually caught up with it," said Mr McTear." It ran out of cash. "We are working with the Lushers' senior managers to finish off current contracts and market the business and assets for sale."
Mr McTear said the firm's turnover was approaching £3.8m and its 39 employees included bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, plumbers, plasterers and decorators and office staff.
WS Lusher was founded in 1924 by William Lusher at his home in Tillett Road, Sprowston. In 1934 it moved into its current home in School Lane and gradually became known for its restoration work on churches and stately homes. In 1978 it was awarded the Royal Warrant of Appointment for annual maintenance at Sandringham House.
William's grandson Mark Lusher has been at the head of the business for more than 30 years and last year was joined by his daughter Kim who is now general manager of the firm. After weathering the recession, in April this year the firm announced it was looking for a new home and planned to invest proceeds from its sale of its School Lane base back into the business but a buyer could not be secured in time.
Speaking last year, Mr Lusher said while business was looking up, if the firm was competing against other businesses for contracts, figures were still very low. At the time he said: "Some people are still a bit nervous about having the work done, but it is better than it was."