Growing support for Construction Alliance North East’s (CAN) construction charter

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Construction Alliance North East (CAN), the organisation established to represent over 500 regional SMEs engaged in construction and civil engineering, continues to receive widespread backing for its construction charter from industry bodies as well as over half the region’s MPs.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) North East is the latest to show its support and now sits beside those of the North East of England Chamber of Commerce, Sunderland City Council and Northumberland County Council – organisations that have already supported it. The Charter seeks to change the way public sector procurement personnel work with regional SMEs in the industry. The adoption of more intelligent procurement methods, the Charter argues, would give regional SMEs a fairer chance to bid for public sector work, building resilience into the North East construction industry.

While Constructing Excellence in the North East represents the interests of all regional construction-related companies, it is a platform for industry improvement and we are all for collaboration, so I am not only encouraged by the kind of improvements the charter calls for but delighted to see that over half the region’s MPs have also signed up to it. The support of CIC North East is another step in the right direction, spreading the net a little further throughout the sector to include professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations within the construction industry.

CIC North East has already signed up to a 30-day payment charter which is also an aim of CAN’s – to encourage fairer payment terms within the industry. Adopting a more intelligent approach to procurement is common sense and fortunately, it is now well recognised that the cheapest price is not always the best. Even the Government’s Public Accounts Committee produced a report recently relating to strategic suppliers – those with the largest value of contracts – which is highly critical of the procurement process at present.

It is great news for region’s like ours that two of the report’s recommendations relate to reducing barriers to the bidding process for SMEs and ensuring that SMEs get paid on time. Construction is a vital part of the regional economy and the sustainability of the sector is crucial because if it is not given priority, the delivery of new homes, workspace and infrastructure will not be realised, which will significantly disadvantage the North East.

Through a common-sense approach, CAN continues to address some of the ills in the construction sector and I am pleased to see that it is starting to make headway as it lobbies for change.

The Importance of Managing Workplace Pressures

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Like many industries, construction has its pressures. Our industry has and always will be a stressful industry, with workload, client demands and budget concerns being a daily worry, but as an industry, we need to take the issues of workplace stress and mental health very seriously. That’s not to say we aren’t, health and safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. Employees working in the industry need to know that their mental health is just as important to us as their physical well-being.

Demands from employers and clients, low margins and a culture of confrontation can create a perfect storm for mental health issues to develop. The pressures and demands faced at work can create huge stress and anxiety – which can be pushed to the edge if not managed in the correct way.  According to statistics from safety barrier manufacturer, A-SAFE, 48% of workers are kept awake as a result of workplace stress with some losing more than 10 hours of sleep a week.  Almost 70% in the sector suffer from Sunday night blues, with the data also showing that 16% of workers regularly lose sleep, with a further 32% experiencing occasional loss of sleep. Given how dangerous our industry can be, it worries me to think of those workers operating heavy machinery or making important decisions on minimal hours of sleep.

There are some companies and projects in the industry encouraging long hour days. I know it’s common for activity on sites to ramp up when the deadline is approaching but some sites operate 24 hours a day, with workers offered bonuses for working obscenely long hours. Over the last few months, two Construction News investigations have uncovered job adverts for two high-profile projects seeking workers for 15 and 16-hour-a-day roles. The odd shift here and there might not be a big deal, but if you’re doing it weekly without recovery time, it could be very detrimental to your health and wellbeing.

All the work we’ve been doing (and there’s been a lot) to look more into health and safety and mental health initiatives, will be pointless if we can’t understand the impact of working long shifts day after day. I understand pressure to finish a project has the potential to drive subcontractors to work these kind of hours and when the client is desperately seeking completion the pressure on the contractor is huge. What worries me, is that the industry has done nothing to assess the effects of long hours on productivity and safety. Obviously, productivity is very important, but for me there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our workers.

The construction industry isn’t going anywhere, we’re always going to need houses building, but unless we take more care of ourselves both individually and as an industry, the industry will be a very different place in no time.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

02/08/2018 – Could Shipping Containers be the Answer to All Our Problems

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Shipping container architecture, using steel shipping containers as structural elements, has grown in popularity due to their strength, availability and low cost. They have been used creatively and innovatively by architects to produce some very eye-catching results including fully modified homes, offices, toilets or simply used for storage.

Shipping container villages are popping up all over the country, with two of the newest based here in the North East. The Newcastle container hub, Stack, is due to open in the city centre in a few weeks. Stack aims to combine the best elements of food festivals and continental markets. It will provide a launchpad for up to 50 SMEs all of which will be run from shipping containers, creating and sustaining around 500 jobs over the four years it will be on site. On the Gateshead Quayside, another container village ‘HWKRMRKT’ opened earlier this summer hosting a collection of 15 independent street traders selling pizza, tacos, burgers, ice creams, cakes and more. The village has a very ‘cosmopolitan’ feel and has already proven to be extremely popular, bringing life to a once empty area. This is one of the reasons I love this industry, it has the ability to create something amazing, just a few shipping containers (and a lot of hard work from those involved) have generated such a feel-good atmosphere.

It’s not just businesses that are using shipping containers, they are also being used to tackle housing shortages, by turning them into homes. Last year, Cadwyn Housing Association in Cardiff was granted permission to create 14 homes from shipping containers. The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers. The homes will be used as temporary affordable housing, but they could be the answer to some of our housing problems.It is not just helping new businesses they are also being used to help those who have fallen on hard times to take the vital first step off living on the street.

Containers are ideal to be used as a building material, they are strong, can be stacked and are very easy to move. When discussing a project early on, it’s important to think about the sustainability and how eco-friendly it can be and using shipping containers that can be recycled plays a huge part in that. Once a container is modified, the steel is recycled and there’s less impact on the environment due to fewer first use materials being used during construction e.g. concrete, timber or bricks.

The Welsh Assembly has an Innovation housing programme specifically looking to tackle housing. Shipping containers being turned into homes is one of the solutions.

Towards the end of 2017 Cardiff Council received funding from the programme to build eight energy-efficient family homes in the grounds of Greenfarm Hostel in Ely .

And earlier this year Cadwyn Housing Association was given permission to create 14 homes in shipping containers on Bute Street in Cardiff.

The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers as well as a warden’s office.

The homes are planned as temporary affordable housing on a short-term basis.

It is not just helping new businesses they are also being used to help those who have fallen on hard times to take the vital first step off living on the street.

The Welsh Assembly has an Innovation housing programme specifically looking to tackle housing. Shipping containers being turned into homes is one of the solutions.

Towards the end of 2017 Cardiff Council received funding from the programme to build eight energy-efficient family homes in the grounds of Greenfarm Hostel in Ely .

And earlier this year Cadwyn Housing Association was given permission to create 14 homes in shipping containers on Bute Street in Cardiff.

The development will include seven one-bedroom containers and seven two-bedroom containers as well as a warden’s office.

The homes are planned as temporary affordable housing on a short-term basis.

Last year, the housing white paper, highlighted that not enough local authorities are planning for the homes needed and house building is simply too slow. Yes, the government is doing a lot to increase the number of new houses, but we need houses now and with the skills shortage, using shipping containers could be part of the solution. Who knows, these unconventional methods could take off and in a few years, traditional builds might all be a thing of the past.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.