Suttle Stone Quarries

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Suttle Stone Quarries is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Highlighting best practice
Sea defence work in
Joe Paine, left, receives
a new piling rig with key
team members
Suttle Stone Quarries provide a dual function: alongside
stone extraction, they also complete specialist civil
engineering projects. This balance to their business helps
to support both elements. The company operate two quarries
across East Dorset and have assisted with engineering projects
ranging from rail improvements to the construction of sea
defences. Managing Director Joe Paine discusses the importance
of location to the quarrying business and how they have tried to
attract more STEM graduates into the sector.
Alongside being experts in stone, we are also specialist civil engineers. Across East
Dorset, we operate two stone quarries and recycling and merchanting depots. The
bedding structure of stone will affect its commercial possibilities dramatically, and
our quarrying is a reflection of this. At Swanage, we follow a path, established by
our parents and grandparents in the 1930s, which extracts Purbeck Stone for the
construction of buildings, structures and monuments. This process involves digging,
splitting and sawing. Purbeck Stone can be worked to attain high commodity value,
and, because of its historic uses, it travels well. Most recently, we have exported
some stone to coastal East Virginia for work to complement material imported by
the settlers as ship ballast.
At Worth Matravers, we extract Portland Stone. Here, millennia of water ingress have
broken rocks into block sizes too small for masonry applications. The processing of
125,000 tonnes per annum begins with explosives. Rock is then reduced down into
sizes that range from three tonnes to dust and is used for applications that range
from sea defence, through road building to the provision of agricultural lime.
»Managing Director: Joe Paine
»Founded in 1993
»Based in Poole and the Isle of
Purbeck, Dorset
»Services: Stone quarrying
and materials recycling with
a specialist civil engineering
»No. of employees: 92
»Six members of the Suttles’
wider family have followed an
uncle, a nephew and a brother
in law in taking up full- or part-
time roles within the business
Suttle Stone Quarries
The importance of location
Location is vital in quarrying. In parts
of the UK that are densely populated,
areas of rock outcrops are often prized
for their natural beauty. This creates a
tension in the planning process. This
must be overcome by sensible and
sensitive extraction and consideration
of the impacts on local communities,
part of which derives valuable skilled
employment from the industry.
Location is key in dimension stone, as,
for heritage purposes, specific bedding
strata are required to match local
stone. New buildings in the correct
stone will allow development without
compromise to an area’s character.
In crushed aggregate production, a
road delivery distance of 15 miles will
double the cost of a quarried product.
Market proximity is key for economic
and environmental reasons. As rail
transport of rock armour is a problem,
it can travel further economically
by road. Our Dorset quarry is the
most eastern in southern England,
apart from quarries in Kent, giving it
strategic and economic importance.
Our Chairman Chris Suttle has been
a stone mason for 45 years and has
been interested in computing since the
early 1980s. By the end of the decade,
this meant we acquired an IBM386
PC, complete with two terminals. We
were early to embrace IT, with an
original online presence, self-written
in HTML code. Similarly authored, we
designed our own bespoke accounting
database, mining information from
a standard accounting package. This
proved a durable tool in running our
company. A positive IT culture has
been ingrained for long-term benefit.
We have been alive to the marketing
opportunities of the internet, savvy
in protecting ourselves and used to
handling data to analyse and improve.
This holds true today with our use of
computer-aided design, and a wide
variety of other technologies, as we
look forward to the era of building
information modelling in our business.
Twining quarrying and civil
Since 2008, we have combined
quarrying with specialist civil
engineering. Stone extraction is a
manufacturing discipline. There can be
innovation, of course, but, at its heart,
it is more like attrition. When you have
no sales, you can still create stock, so
demand fluctuation is smoothed. The
number and locations of your quarries
dictate the size of your market.
Conversely, our type of contracting is
a problem solver’s playground, with
ever-changing challenges. Resourcing
sees lots of fluctuations in demand,
which in isolation could be hard to
Precision stone cutting
at California Quarry
A positive IT
culture has
ingrained for
Highlighting best practice
manage. The market, on the other
hand, is practically unlimited. Both
operations share core skills that can
be applied on either side. This happy
marriage gives one side a shot of
stimulation and the chance to build
an intellectual bank in our staff well
beyond that of a normal aggregate
producer of our size. This is coupled
with opportunities for expansion,
the development of our staff and the
fulfilling of our ambitions.
Meanwhile, the contracting side
is helped to balance its resource
requirements, leading to a calmer
tendering approach and regular
employment for all. One side is kept
fresh while the other is anchored. A
mix of private development material
supply and public works contracting
even helps to spread our exposure.
Attracting new recruits
People are one of the great variables.
In dimension stone production, many
local families can trace their history
back through generations in the
local industry, often combined with
agriculture and fishing. The industry
is now safer and, thankfully, the
debilitating physical work involved has
gone. That said, we believe strongly
that during a time when identity has
become hard to hang on to for blue-
collar workers, our sector’s jobs retain
value for people wishing to pursue this
kind of work. It easily delivers a living
wage but also great pride. This is also
true for aggregate production, which
traces its history in Purbeck back to
road building in the early part of the
last century.
Civil engineering suffers shortages
in STEM graduates. As a relatively
new and smaller player, for the time
being, attracting talent is a real issue
for us. Without the perspective of
experience, graduates can miss the
brilliant opportunity for growth implicit
in a small, vibrant company. We offer
a greater degree of self-delivery,
benefiting our graduates in terms of
experience. To attract the right calibre
of candidates, we have relied on
salary and a more innovative approach
physical work
involved has
Regular tours at
Swanworth Quarry
foster local support and
The story of Antonio Espana provides
an insight into this recruitment
process. In 2013, he completed a
five-year course at the University of
Valencia, achieving the equivalent of
a master’s in civil engineering. Lacking
feasible work at home, he followed
his girlfriend to Swanage, where
she pursued nursing within the care
sector. Antonio worked in a local fish
and chip shop and spotted our online
advertisement for graduates. Having
already employed another candidate
but sensing his talent, and the waste in
the situation, we created space for him
in a semi-skilled quarry role, awaiting an
opportunity to put his design training to
proper use. By 2019, he had developed
into the key resource in managing a
concrete piling team of eight people,
with a £2.2m annual turnover.

This article was sponsored by Suttle Stone Quarries. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.