After winning the BMI Apprentice of the Year in 2017, semi-pro footballer Joe Stradling is still scoring with success both in football and in roofing. RCI caught up with him on a roof in Frome, Somerset.
“What I remember most about the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition is the business mindset and preparing you for a future in roofing”, says Joe. “It made me realise what opportunities were out there in roofing and allowed me to appreciate the choices available”. Other elements of the BMI competition stayed with Joe too. “There was a great section on fault-finding that I really liked, plus things like estimating too. We also talked about financing a business which I hadn’t thought about before. These parts of the competition were so good, I actually booked to go on three more courses at BMI in 2020, but unfortunately that couldn’t go ahead due to the pandemic. I’m looking forward to getting them reorganised when we’re less busy”.
Joe entered roofing after a period as a footballer, and initially learned his trade with a specialist contractor with an impressive track record in heritage projects demanding the best craft skills. Thanks to his progressive boss, Joe attended the National Construction College (NCC) South to become qualified. It was during this time that Joe was not only declared the BMI Apprentice of the Year, but also the CITB South West Regional Apprentice of the Year. “I stayed with the company for quite a while after qualifying”, Joe says. “I was still very keen to develop further within the trade. It went really well: I was working with my own labourer and got experience on some jobs, like listed buildings, that it would be almost impossible to get elsewhere.”
Fast forward a few happy years with his previous employer, and with Joe approaching 29, he was invited to undertake sub-contracting with an old friend, Carl Wheeler. This experience, combined with taking side jobs for friends and family, eventually gave Joe the confidence to form his own business and now he and Carl work as each other’s subcontractor on alternate jobs as they win them. Typical of Joe’s work is his current project and, unsurprisingly given his background, it’s a heritage job. Catherine Hill in Frome is a street that could be straight out of the famous Hovis nostalgic ‘bike’ advert. The ‘cottage’ he’s working on is a three-storey house split into flats and tucked away in a little courtyard off the hill. But in its charm lies a problem. “Jobs like this are hard,” says Joe. “Parking is a nightmare, scaffolding is awkward, we can’t get skips in and people can’t deliver to us.”
The day before we met Joe, he and Carl had been carrying out a series of shuttle runs to a reclamation yard to pick up 350 salvaged pantiles they needed to finish the roof – then unloading them into the courtyard where they would be useful. These kind of logistical problems make working on heritage projects in some local towns a thing of dread – Bradford-on-Avon is one of the worst apparently – yet all adds to the challenge. “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it,” Joe adds. “It’s one of the things that makes us different and the satisfaction on completing them is massive.”
Although sport can be a cruel business, it hasn’t turned its back on Joe entirely either. Before becoming a roofer, he used to play for Team Bath FC – a Bath University initiative that combined further education and sport through a mixture of scholarships and semi-pros – in the Conference South League, only two steps away from the main Football League. Sadly, Bath FC was disbanded in 2009. It wasn’t a total loss for Joe or football though, as he was soon signed by Westbury United FC. Once described by his club as the “fittest man in the Toolstation Western League”, he continues to play for Westbury in the Hellenic League Premier Division, “I’m at my peak on the pitch,” says Joe, now 29, “and have still got a few good years left in that. Roofing is looking pretty good too. The way things are going, that’ll be keeping me going for even longer.”