A North-East company is looking to the future by placing an increased emphasis on employing former members of the armed forces. Peter Barron reports on the growth of Sparta Security UK

AS his security company approaches its tenth anniversary, Francis Jones gazes out across the emerging industrial complex that has become his latest client and allows himself a quiet smile of satisfaction.

The former professional boxer launched Sparta Security UK in 2009 and, a decade on, the company – run like a military-style operation – has an undeniably impressive customer-base to underline its credibility.

For example, Sparta has recently been signed up by ISG, the principal design and build contractor for DB Symmetry, which is busy developing the giant Symmetry Park business site on the outskirts of Darlington.

The project, stretching across 35 hectares to the east of Lingfield Point, is to build a new Fulfilment Centre for a leading international retail business, and is expected to create around 3,000 jobs when it is completed next summer.

ISG is happy to have entrusted the site’s security to Sparta and Francis sees the Symmetry Park contract as another major vote of confidence.

“This is a hugely important site, not just for Darlington, but the wider North-East economy, so looking after its security and safety is both an honour and a massive responsibility,” says Sparta’s Chief Executive Officer. “It shows we are trusted to deliver a quality service.”

Teesside, North Yorkshire, Tyneside, and County Durham all feature in Sparta’s geographical coverage and the company’s diverse list of clients also includes the likes of Rockliffe Hall, Bowes Museum, Darlington’s Hippodrome Theatre, property developers Bellway and Miller Homes, PWS Distributors Ltd, Tolent Construction Ltd, Gus Robinson Developments Ltd, Billingham Town Council, and Carlisle City Council.

Francis may be best known to many as the star of the tongue in cheek BBC3 fly-on-the-wall documentary series Rent A Cop, but much has happened in the three years since it was broadcast. He describes it as “a bit of fun”, stressing that the focus is now on building on the solid foundations that have been laid.

ISG projector manager Richard Miles, for one, has no regrets about engaging Sparta at Symmetry Park. "ISG approached Sparta in order to work with a local security company who had a great reputation and local knowledge of the specific area. This approach helped us to identify particular risks and tailor the security requirements accordingly, working within our budget,” said Mr Miles.

“The Sparta Security team set the first impression of the site when people arrive. The guards are always polite and professional and set a personal example to everyone. Feedback from visitors and delivery drivers regarding our security guards is always positive.”

There is a workforce of 150 on Symmetry Park, with that figure likely to peak at around 500, and a good team spirit is seen as crucial to the success of the project.

“Sparta Security is an important part of the team and has succeeded in keeping the site secure, free from incident night and day, and ensuring deliveries flow with the use of new technology to complement more traditional security measures,” says Mr Miles.

It is a ringing endorsement for a business which started when Francis was contacted by local people who needed help in dealing with anti-social behavior problems near their homes.

At the time, Francis was running a door supervision company, with around 60 staff on his books at establishments across the north, but Sparta took him a new level. His objective was to create the North- East’s leading security company, and took its name from the ancient Greek inter-state where children were trained to be good citizens and brave soldiers.

Slowly but surely, Sparta has added corporate clients to private customers and, in the past year, £200,000 has been invested in cutting-edge security equipment that enables clients to stay one step ahead of the law-breakers.

The company is on target to reach £1m in revenue for the past financial year and has also reinforced its credentials by signing up to the Armed Forces Covenant, cementing its commitment to employ former members of the military.

As a former sergeant with the Royal Dragoon Guards, and with nearly 15 years’ experience with The Army, Sparta’s general manager, Julian McBride, goes as far as to say that the aspiration is for 70 per cent of the company’s workforce to be ex-military personnel.

Julian, who has seen active service in Afghanistan, as well as postings in Germany and Poland, passionately believes that the 70 per cent target will not just be good for business but have wider benefits to society.

He points out that clients can be given the reassurance of having highly-trained security staff whose bread and butter has been doing perimeter checks and guard reports in their careers with the armed forces. But just as important to Sparta’s philosophy is that those who might otherwise struggle with returning to Civvy Street are given valuable employment opportunities.

“It’s not always an easy transition to make and we are absolutely committed to playing our part in helping those lads and lasses who have served their country to find decent jobs,” says Julian, who specialised in providing force protection for a general during his time in The Army.

Julian is quick to point out that those opportunities are not just out on the security sites but in areas such as administration and sales.

Meanwhile, a special relationship has been forged with the Richmond Jobcentre – the nearest to Catterick – and Sparta has staged jobs fairs at the garrison.

For those joining Sparta from the armed forces, working practices will be familiar because the company is based on a military-style operations room, with a 24-hour communications system linking all employees and every site.

Assets include five brand new Sparta-branded trucks, a fleet of 12 top-of-the-range rapid deployment CCTV towers, and GPS tracking on all guards so that patrols can be constantly monitored. With a taskforce deployed throughout the night, it is a 24-hour operation.

“What we are selling is a quality, professional approach to security that gives our clients, no matter how big or small, peace of mind right round the clock,” says Francis.

Peace is central to his beliefs as a Christian and he describes God as “the wind in the sails of Sparta”.

“It’s exciting to be able to help and serve people, giving them reassurance, increased confidence and take away their anxiety,” he adds.

Sparta has recently become accredited to the Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS), demonstrating that it complies with all health and safety standards, and is working towards Approved Contracting Status.

While he may be the figure-head, Francis is the first to acknowledge the importance of having a reliable core team backed up by a small army of contractors, and he’s keen to underline the value of those who form the “backbone” of the company.

His wife Rachel, Sparta’s Finance Director, is a case in point: “Rachel is absolutely fundamental to everything we do,” says Francis. “She’s not only a fantastic wife but the main organiser, making sure that everything works smoothly. We just complement each other perfectly.”

He goes on to point out with pride that Sparta recently won two awards from ISG – one of “positive intervention” after coming to the aid of a contractor who suffered a heart attack, and the other for topping the monthly performance league table for contractors.

“Getting the right people who understand your philosophy is vital and there are great opportunities with Sparta for those who are willing to work hard and are passionate about doing things the right way for our clients,” says Francis.

Nearly a decade after it all began, the future for Sparta Security looks increasingly secure.

To find out more about Sparta Security, or arrange a free security risk assessment, call 0800 0234480, visit the website at www.spartasecurityuk.co.uk or email info@spartasecurityuk.co.uk