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A Quality Finish

Bespoke joinery company Deluxe Group is assembling its five major showsets on site at Dubai Parks and Resorts. Jason O’Connell spoke to business development director Richard Hill about the Northern Ireland-based company’s journey.

When Dubai Parks and Resorts opens its doors to the public in less than five months’ time, it will have been the fastest theme park ever built, another world record to add to the pile Dubai has gathered over the last decade or so.

One of the companies helping to make it a reality is Deluxe Group, a Northern Ireland based outfit building some of the sets on Motiongate, the movie themed component of the park that also contains Bollywood and Legoland.

The family-owned firm is working to turn some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters into a reality for the millions of thrill seekers that are expected to descend on the theme park when it opens in October. Fans of hit films such as Hotel Transylvania, Ghostbusters, Underworld, Green Hornet and Zombieland will be able to witness the company’s craftsmanship first hand.

Deluxe Group cut its teeth on Disneyland Paris 30 years ago and also built the set for the theme park’s most recent attraction, Ratatouille, so the company comes with a strong track record in an industry that Dubai hopes will help its bid to attract 20 million tourists per year by 2020.

The company built the sets at its workshop in Northern Ireland and then shipped the individual components to Dubai for assembly, Deluxe Group’s Business Development Manager Richard Hill explains. Because the sets are so big (Ghostbusters for example is over eight metres high) the workshop is the size of a small aircraft hangar. The fact that more than 50 standard sized shipping containers were required to transport all the sets to the Middle East shows the scale of the undertaking.

“We’ve built the rooftop of a New York building here and dismantled it and shipped it to Dubai,” Hill says. “That allowed us to ensure quality and the client could be involved in the process in terms of inspecting and approving it. With a very fast track project like Dubai Parks and Resorts you need to have a lot of prefabrication whereas previously a lot of theme parks were built on site.”

Richard Hill (left) and Adrian Finnegan

Richard Hill (left) and Adrian Finnegan

The sets are typically designed by someone else but Deluxe does the shop drawing and fabrication design. “We’re showed how it should look but not how it should be built and that requires all of our knowledge and experience of working in the industry,” Hill says. “For example, materials have to meet strict fire regulations and theme parks attract a lot of visitor traffic which requires that materials are very durable.

“A lot of the detailing is up to us and our research and development. You can be manufacturing things that are pretty unique and never been built before. There have not really been theme parks built in the UAE before and one thing Dubai Parks and Resorts is going for is very high quality.”

The Motiongate job was so big that Deluxe had to take on more people. The company’s base in Northern Ireland – which has a growing reputation as a location for film shoots – helped it to attract the kind of skilled workers needed to deliver the quality finish that Dubai Parks and Resorts insisted on.

“That’s brought people here from the film industry and we have now got some of those people under our own wing,” Hill says. “Our project manager, for example, helped build some of the sets for films like Harry Potter, James Bond and Batman and he’s putting that film set knowledge together with our theme park construction knowledge. That obviously helps us with Motiongate which has a film theme. Our crew have a good understanding of how a film set should look in terms of authenticity.”

Having that caliber of worker helped the company stick to the very challenging schedule set by the theme park. “The feedback we’re getting is that we’ve got strong project management,” Hill says. “With a theme park schedules can’t afford to slip because you’re working towards an opening. Along with the physical structure there’s a big human resource element involved in running a theme park. All of it has to come on stream at the same time.”

Deluxe employs over 100 people, with a crew of 25-30 in Dubai working on assembling its Motiongate attractions. As well as the theme park work, the company puts its fit out skills to good use in other sectors such as high end hospitality, retail and even residential. The company has worked on world famous retail establishments such as Harrods and House of Fraser in London and has also done exclusive private members clubs.

“We’ve got a unique blend of craftspeople and artists and people that have worked in the film industry,” Hill says. “That gives us a creative team which helps us in hospitality markets because we can do fabrication that other companies can’t.”

Despite the good flow of work back home in the UK, Deluxe is clearly intent on growing its presence in the UAE, having recently opened a permanent office in Dubai. With the emirate continuing to develop its hospitality, retail, leisure and entertainment offering, Deluxe Group’s services should be in steady demand in the coming years.

“Dubai sits very nicely between east and west and the new airport and the Expo site are near Dubai Parks and Resorts. There are other theme parks in the pipeline and there will be further phases of Dubai Parks and Resorts so hopefully there will be something in that for us. And theme parks need to be refreshed and redeveloped from time to time as well. We’ve opened an office in Dubai and hopefully we’re there for the long term.”

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