IT sounds like the ultimate dream job.
For eight eventful years, painter and decorator Gary Lonnen lived and worked on Spain’s Costa del Sol, helping ex-pats keep their villas spick and span by running the country’s first Dulux Decorator Centre.
Gary had already worked as a painter and decorator for firms in Huddersfield.
But when his wife’s parents moved to sunny Spain in 2002 the family decided to join them.
“As a decorator by trade I decided to go out there and paint houses,” he says.
“In Spain I approached ICI, who owned Dulux at the time and within three months of arriving, I had opened the centre.”
Gary built up the business, adding a decorating company and a refurbishment company to his arsenal and shipping out a cherry-picker to rent to out.
He worked on refurbishment contracts for swimming pools, offices and even a bank.
However, working in sunny Spain was not without its problems – not least the growing competition from Spanish paint suppliers and the headache of delivery problems between Spain and the UK.
By the end of eight years, Gary and the family were ready to return home.
Not that they hadn’t enjoyed the adventure.
“We have three children and my oldest daughter speaks fluent Spanish,” he says proudly.
“We took Bethanie over when she was five. Alice was six months old and Millie was born out in Spain. The children had a wonderful life out there.
“We had our own swimming pool and we had parties with 40 people attending.
“We probably had barbecues four times a week.
“But you don’t make lifelong friends out there. You meet socially with people and have a drink or two. Family bonds are the strongest.
“One day I got back from work and decided that I’d had enough.
“The kids were asking when we were going home, so we settled our business affairs, sold up and came back to Huddersfield.
“Family and friends helped out by giving me work, so I had a few decorating jobs, but I was determined to grow my own business.
“I targeted companies, wrote letters and got some responses.”
Gary set up GML Maintenance and Refurbishment Ltd, providing a 24-hour reactive maintenance service.
Now is client list includes Batley-based PPG Architectural Coatings. Gary’s company helps deal with maintenance issues at several of its 200 Leyland/Johnstone’s Decorator Centres across the UK.
Although the work focuses mainly on centres in the north, the contract often takes him further afield.
The company offers a range of building and refurbishment services for properties ranging from domestic houses and shops to offices, schools and colleges.
GML also handles contracts for facilities management and energy services company Dalkia plc – applying specialist coatings to protect concrete “bunds” from damage by chemicals at sites including distilleries, food processing plants, and chemical works. The company is accredited as a main contractor for Flowcrete, the corrosion protection business.
GML supplies a range of seamless coating systems based on shrink resistant resins which provide corrosion protection against concentrated acids, alkalines and solvents.
The work takes Gary and his sub-contractors all over the country – from Scotland to Wales and from Carlisle to Cambridge..
It means days and nights away from home, but Gary has never been afraid of hard work.
“I want to grow this business,” he says. “I want four or five vans and 20 people working for me!
“I have a number of sub-contractors who I know are good at the job, but my plan is to grow the business into a nice-sized company and employ a few guys regularly.
“I enjoy my job. I get a buzz from it – especially when we get some nice contracts and someone rings up wanting a job doing.
“I still get the same buzz as I did when I was a youngster starting out in the trade because I am still hungry for success.
“I don’t want to be a one-man band. I also want to make some brass!”
Gary, who was a pupil at Colne Valley High School, admits that painting and decorating was not his initial choice of career.
He recalls: “The school secretary lived across the road from us and she came over to say that someone had been looking for the careers teacher because he wanted to set on an apprentice.
“I left school on a Friday and started as an indentured painter and decorator the following Monday with GA Foster and Son at Scapegoat Hill.
“At the interview I was asked how long I’d wanted to be a decorator. I said ‘about half an hour’. I think they set me on because of my honesty!
During his time with the firm, Gary worked on several notable contracts, including the clean-up work following severe flooding in Keighley and Maltby.
Although he later worked for other companies, Gary only finally parted company with Foster and Son in 2003.
“I learned a lot from Foster’s,” says Gary. “I learnt the ‘behind the desk’ stuff, how to quote for a job and how to deal with customers.
“But I decided it was time I worked for myself.”
Now Gary has 25 years experience in the industry – as well as the invaluable lessons learned during his eight years in Spain.
And while he has ambitions for his business, he is old enough to know that quality time with is wife, Kay and the children is what counts.
“I try to keep my weekends free because I love my spending time with the children.
“We go swimming on Saturday or Sunday mornings and I like to watch Town when they’re at home as often as I can. I love that afternoon out with the lads.
“As a family, we do a lot of walking, but we also like a takeaway or two!
I used to play lots of sports. I was mainly an athlete – running with Longwood Harriers and Yorkshire. But I’ve also played football for local teams including Golcar and Marsden as well as a few Sunday sides.
“I played rugby and basketball, but these days I watch rather than play.
“I do a stint in the gym, but my time is mainly spent with the kids.
“We’ll got out for a family meal – and if not we’ve a fridge full of cracking food.”