How Southwold boatyard has navigated choppy economic waters

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe.Owner John BuckleyPHOTO: Nick Butcher

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe.Owner John BuckleyPHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

When money is tight, you might think repairing a boat or a yacht is the last thing people would spend their hard-earned cash on.

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe. Ben Harrison working on a mast.PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe. Ben Harrison working on a mast.PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

But while many boatyards have struggled in the recession, Harbour Marine Services has weathered the economic storm to remain as one of the few independent boatyards left in the country.

It has not always been plain sailing for the firm, for as owner John Buckley explained: 'Boats are the last thing people spend their money on. The first thing they spend money on is their mortgage or rent.

'We're therefore dealing with people who have limited expendable income - it's a luxury.'

But the company - which refits, repairs and maintains all type of vessels at its base in Southwold Harbour - has carved itself out a niche as one of the few places that offers a more tailored service.

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe. Max Cronin.PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Feature on Southwold Harbour and Cafe. Max Cronin.PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

'We provide a very personal service,' Mr Buckley said. 'For every job that's carried out, the client will have an input over the course of the work, followed by photos as it progresses.

'It's all about customer service.'

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Mr Buckley believes HMS - which started in Lowestoft in around 1986-87 and moved to Southwold in around 1988-89, has an advantage over other boatyards because it has retained 20 staff with knowledge in various disciplines.

That has helped keep costs down, as it has negated the need to rely on subcontractors, but still means the team can handle around seven or eight projects at any one time.

The firm is also able to carry out 480 hours of work each week and in recent years has taken over the running of the Harbour Café.

As such, Mr Buckley believes the harbour area is a 'huge asset to the town' as it is a place where people can enjoy a picturesque walk along the River Blyth, enjoy some food and still see a traditional working harbour.

However he said one of the biggest challenges is that: 'We still meet people who have been come here for ages and don't know the harbour is here.

'They can go to the pub, café, have fish and chips but they don't necessarily understand that this is still very much a working harbour - and long may that continue to be so.'

Have you got a Lowestoft story? Email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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