Heavy lifting is no barrier to concrete block hire firm’s success

Farm diversification comes in many shapes and forms – and for Pete Smith and Neil West, it’s concrete and blocked-shaped.

The business partners set up Block Aid 15 years ago, hiring out heavy concrete structures for use as vehicle control and security barriers, and also as ballast to tie down marquees and other temporary structures. They supply notable events such as the London Marathon, Glastonbury music festival and the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Neil West said: “We’ve built up a positive reputation by providing a responsive ‘can do’ service and coming up with innovative products based on customer feedback and requirements; we have a thousand blocks weighing from 100kg to 5000kg for hire, which can be deployed individually or linked together, as well as sliding barrier gates for temporary or semi-permanent use on properties.”

The business has also flourished by guaranteeing delivery to any on- or off-road site, using delivery lorries and one of two JCB Loadall telescopic handlers operated on Pete Smith’s farm in Northamptonshire where the block hire business is based.

Pete Smith says: “We use the JCB Loadalls for loading and unloading the concrete barriers and ballast blocks, so the 560-80 bought this year to handle our new 5 tonne block and the three-year old 536-60 have a very varied workload.

“They may go off one day placing concrete blocks in Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square in London and the next day they’re working on the farm moving hay bales, seed corn, fertiliser or muck and pushing up grain – they do everything.”

Both machines are equipped with JCB’s unique DualTech VT transmission, which combines hydrostatic drive with mechanical powershift to exploit the best characteristics of both.

“Round the yard we find the hydrostatic drive incredibly useful; it’s very easy to drive smoothly at low speeds, which is important for safety when you’re loading concrete barrier blocks weighing up to 5 tonnes each,” Pete Smith emphasises.

“And when you head off up the road, the DualTech VT system’s powershift kicks in above 19kph and shifts up through the gears with no hesitation – you just press the pedal and go!”

Neil West points out that with the LiveLink telematics system, routine servicing can be kept on schedule more easily and any issues checked out before they become a problem.

“Oliver Landpower, who supply our Loadalls, keeps a watch on the machines through LiveLink, so they know what hours they’re on and when they’re due a service,” he points out. “And because they get alerts about the machine, they can actually ring us when there appears to be an issue before we’re even aware of it!”

LiveLink’s ‘curfew’ feature is another benefit, he adds, because it will send a warning alert if a machine is operated outside working hours or moved from a given location.

Visibility from the new 560-80’s Command Plus cab and the 360 degree LED lighting also come in for praise: “Because we have lorries coming in late evening or first thing in the morning, the LED lights are absolutely brilliant and another great safety feature for our job,” says Neil West.

Pete Smith confirms the attraction of the new cab with its high-visibility curved windscreen: “It’s a massive step up from the previous design; I’m 6ft 6in but can sit back comfortably in the seat and still get a good view up when I’m stacking flat-eight conventional bales of hay 18 layers high into the barn.

“It’s typical of JCB to be always improving things and one of the reasons we keep coming back to JCB – the 560-80 is our seventh JCB Loadall on the farm and in our Block Aid business, despite having competitor machines on demonstration at times.

“Whether it’s for farming or block hire, we need a machine that’s available 365 days of the year as well as back-up we know we can rely on,” Pete Smith emphasises. “We get both with our JCB machines because it’s a superior product looked after by Oliver Landpower, a dealer with traditional values that we trust will always give us a high standard of service when we need it.”