SME Loans

Diving company set to enter new waters after Mercia backs buy-out

One of the North’s leading diving companies has undergone a seven-figure management buy-out backed by Mercia’s SME Loans fund.

Underwater Diving Services, which is based at the port in Barrow-in-Furness, has played a key role in the redevelopment of the port and the construction of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet and supports many regional infrastructure projects.

The deal will give control of the business to John Williamson, the current Operations Director, and businessmen Jamie Buchanan and Tim Pearce who have acquired a stake in the company. It provides an exit for the founder John Trenouth and fellow shareholder Dave Walker, who will be staying on in a consultancy role.

Underwater Diving Services (UDS) provides underwater construction, repair and maintenance services for infrastructure ranging from ports and harbours to pipelines, windfarms, water plants and reservoirs. It also continues to work on the UK’s submarine delivery programme and carries out salvage and recovery. Clients include BAE Systems, Peel Ports, Associated British Ports, United Utilities and Cumbria County Council.

UDS was founded in 1975, originally to serve North Sea operators. It has been working with the port of Barrow since the 1990s, when it also supported the construction of the warships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. More recent projects have included helping to stabilise bridges after Storm Desmond brought widespread flooding in 2015 and work on Scotland’s new Stornaway deep water terminal.

John Williamson, who now becomes Managing Director, joined the business in 2016 and has since overseen a programme of modernisation, enabling it to gain new accreditations and standards and increase turnover by 300%.

UDS currently employs 12 staff and uses a pool of over 20 skilled divers. It is planning to create around six new jobs in the near future and invest in new equipment to enable it to expand into new service lines.

John Williamson said: “UDS has a proud history and has built a strong track record for expertise. After working with the business to put the right foundations in place, I feel it is now well positioned for growth. New industries such as offshore wind, and the need to maintain existing infrastructure, are all opening up new opportunities. I look forward to working with my fellow directors Jamie and Tim to pursue our expansion plans.”

Peter Rooney of Mercia added: “Divers play a critical role in supporting national infrastructure. UDS is the only firm of its type in Cumbria and its expertise would be difficult to replace. The buy-out will secure the future of the business, helping to keep these valuable skills in Barrow and create more local jobs. We are please to support John and the team with their plans to expand the business and create a new generation of divers in Cumbria.”

Ajeet Karandikar at ACDS Consultants provided fundraising advice to the company.