The Skill Mill – giving young offenders a second chance

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

Research shows that ex-offenders who manage to find employment are less likely to re-offend. Given the skills shortage, our industry could be an ideal place to teach them the skills they need to get into employment.

There are a number of programmes across the country looking at young offender intervention, and The Skill Mill is one that was home-grown. It started here in the North East and has since grown around the country. The Skill Mill is a Not for Profit Social Enterprise providing employment opportunities for young people aged 16-18. It was established to combine the provision of high quality and cost-effective outdoor work with maximum social impact.

The young employees undertake accredited training and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. They acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners. The first site was set up in Newcastle in 2014 and has since expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, Durham and North Yorkshire. Each site takes on four young people for 6 months, paying them minimum wage. It gives them real work experience, a nationally recognised qualification and further opportunities for progression at the end of the programme.

Workers are selected based on a combination of attitude, skills, punctuality and vulnerability. It’s not the usual case of choosing those who is right for the job, it’s quite the opposite. Those who are already ‘work ready’ are not selected; they focus on those who need extra help.

The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached the Newcastle Youth Offending Team about cleaning up local waterways, and from that, The Skill Mill was born. It mainly undertakes water and land-based management, helping to reduce flood risks and improve the local environment. Since then, they’ve been commissioned to undertake several projects across the North East. Newcastle City Council commissioned them to protect a low-lying area of the Quayside from coming Spring Tides. The team-maintained culverts around Newcastle, clearing them of silt and other blockages, reducing flood risk and ensuring the structures were accessible for inspection by the Newcastle City Council engineers. The team have also replaced all the wooden sides of the flower beds and planters around Merchants Wharf, a job that was well received by local residents.

There is a 11.5% reoffending rate among those who have already taken part in the programme and when you compare that to the national reoffending rate of 42.2%, it proves it really is working. The end goal is getting all participants into full time employment. Across the five sites in England, from the last cohort of 20 young people, all went on to find employment after the placement ended.

A further six sites are launching next year around the country, funded through a social impact bond from the government’s Life Chances Fund. I’m looking forward to seeing how many more people benefit from the programme and in turn, how the industry benefits from the new talent pool.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

Our Ecological Responsibility

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

Eco-friendly, or ecological, construction is building a structure that is beneficial or non-harmful to the environment. Solar power, water-saving appliances and ‘green’ buildings are all terms we’re familiar with, but now wildlife-safe design is receiving more attention than ever before.

Everything from bats and badgers to nesting birds and invasive non-native species, can be found in and around construction sites and land designated for development. Any of these can put a stop to a project or jeopardise planning permission, so it’s important surveys, assessments and mitigation measures are taken. The term ‘protected species’ refers to species that are protected by legislation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act make it an offence to intentionally, or recklessly kill, injure, or take a protected species, or damage, destroy or obstruct access to structures or places used by protected species for shelter, breeding or protection.

The industry inevitably involves disturbing existing sites which can impact the ecology. Most development proposals will have the potential to impact on the local biodiversity of the development site either through the direct loss of habitats, the reduction in the value of the habitat or the ability of the habitat to support the species that depend on them. Ecological surveys identify the habitats and/or species that exist within an area at the time of the survey. It is important to ensure that protected species are identified as early as possible in the development of a project, when it is straight forward to accommodate any necessary changes or constraints. It also adds time to a project, so it’s best to identify them as early as possible. After carrying out assessments, if wildlife is identified then they require relocation before any work is started.

During the recent restoration of Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Datim Building Contractors employed a range of initiatives to manage the habitat supporting the wildlife living on the exposed castle and crag. The team considered the findings of weekly ecology surveys and were able to adapt their work to accommodate recommendations from the surveys. A breeding pair of barn owls took advantage of the perfect conditions created by the covered scaffolding to rear two broods of chicks. Once the birds had fledged, Datim even built a ‘swiss chalet’ nestbox to continue to provide shelter for the birds once the scaffolding was removed, enabling the works to continue.

I’d like to think we’re an industry that takes its ecological responsibility seriously, protecting the local wildlife and eco-system wherever possible, so although its legally our responsibility, it’s something that we want to do as well. We all have the same goal, to complete projects as quickly and as efficiently as possible, with wildlife moved to new, safe home where needed.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

01/11/18 Final Budget before Brexit

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

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced his latest Autumn budget, the last before Brexit. Within it was plenty of news for the industry, with housing, apprentices and infrastructure all being mentioned, but being announced so close to Halloween, did he deliver a trick or a treat for the industry?

The Chancellor announced that the government have committed an extra £500m of funding to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is expected to unlock 650,000 new homes. Although £291m of which is set to go to London, that’s still over half to be shared around the rest of the country – fingers crossed for some for the North East. He said the fund would receive a £38bn boost by 2023/24. I’m not usually the pessimist but that’s a lot of money in a short space of time, so I won’t hold my breath on that just yet. He also announced that the Letwin Review, the investigation into why the UK isn’t building enough homes, recommends reforming the planning system to speed up building, but there are no plans to act upon the suggestion – another case of all talk and no action.

Controversial PFI and PF2 contracts, under which private companies provide public services and infrastructure, are to be completely abolished. All existing contracts under the PFI and PF2 system will be honoured but Hammond said he would never sign off on a PFI contract.

Addressing the newly introduced Apprenticeship Levy, the Chancellor confirmed that smaller firms who train apprentices would have their contribution to the apprenticeship levy halved, falling from 10% to 5%. Apprenticeship starts have plummeted over the last year following the introduction of costs to small firms who want to get young people into work. Dropping the proportion of apprenticeship training costs footed by small firms is a much-needed development which should lead to even more apprenticeship starts.

The Budget briefly, and I mean briefly, mentioned how Brexit will affect the industry, stating that “The government will review its existing support for infrastructure finance, to ensure that it continues to meet market needs as the UK leaves the EU.”
Overall, it was a Budget that made some small adjustments but

lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. While austerity may be coming to an end, it certainly hasn’t ended. While we might have been promised less potholes in the road, with Brexit looming, I think we’re all in for a bumpy year ahead.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

25/10/18 Preserving historic buildings is more sustainable than building new ones

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

In the North East we are lucky to have such a rich history. Whilst our historic environments and buildings are undoubtedly fantastic to look at and explore, they contain within them knowledge and evidence of skills from centuries ago. Which is why rebuilding, restoring, maintaining and upgrading sites and buildings of historical importance is essential to understanding our nation’s heritage. As an industry we have a responsibility to help people to enjoy and learn from these environments now and preserve them for future generations.

We’re often talking about how the industry has upped its game in terms of technology over the last few years, but for almost every piece of new tech, there are energy-efficiency lessons to be learned from historical buildings. Existing buildings can often be energy efficient through their use of good ventilation, durable materials and spatial relationships. Before air conditioning, structures used passive environmental control from cross-ventilation windows to shutters and bricks that helped keep out the sun. The high thermal mass of stone, as seen in most Victorian buildings, retains warmth in winter and cools in summer. When properly renovated or restored, old buildings can use less energy than modern buildings, even those that are ‘sustainable’. We must ensure we learn from the past and use appropriate methods and materials to secure their future in the most sustainable way. Preservation and restoration are the ultimate form of recycling. It helps reduce waste and ensures that buildings work in the way in which they were designed.

Here at Constructing Excellence, we understand the importance of preserving and maintaining historic assets. It’s an important part of protecting the character of a city, making it an attractive place to live, work and visit. Which is why we dedicate an award to the Preservation and Rejuvenation of buildings each year at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards. The category is one that holds a special place in my heart as it focuses on restoring and preserving the history and culture of the region, something I’m very passionate about.

We are hosting a breakfast briefing on Wednesday 7 November, looking at the restoration of North East buildings and structures. The event will feature speakers from Sunderland City Council, Datim Building Contractors and Space Architects looking at the restoration of Roker Pier, Lindisfarne Castle and the Darlington Hippodrome; some of the biggest restoration projects in the North East in the last couple of years. All three cases studies were shortlisted at our awards earlier in the year, with Lindisfarne Castle winning, Darlington Hippodrome taking away the highly commended award and Roker Pier receiving a Special Award.

To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 500 7880 or email

18/10/18 Drugs and alcohol on site

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

Over recent years, alcohol and drugs misuse has been an increasing issue in the industry and although the majority of contractors and suppliers now say that they carry out regular tests, it seems that there’s still an issue, although we’re lacking data to back it up.

It goes without saying that when working in the industry, concentration, co-ordination and being of sound mind is critical to both the safety and success of a project.  Accidents caused by impairment or intoxication can be detrimental to the health of workers, but also to the reputation of the workers and company. Implementing a drug and alcohol policy and enforcing it with drug and alcohol screening is one of the only ways to reduce these risks. Due to the large machinery and tools used in a construction project, there are few industries where health and safety is more important.

A survey carried out last year by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) revealed that despite 35% of people saying they had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol during working hours, 65% said that they had never been screened or tested for either by their employer. I’m sure most employers are aware of the risks, but maybe they aren’t sure what to do about it? The CCS has launched a new programme to help employers tackle drug and alcohol issues in the industry. The organisation has launched an online Drugs and Alcohol course focusing on how contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and clients can take practical and effective measures to protect their employees. The course aims to provide a platform for the industry to learn about the risks as well as methods to manage them and support those who need it. After taking the lessons online, companies can take a quiz. If they answer more than 70% of questions correctly they will pass the course and receive a certificate.

What does worry me is that the only piece of major research on how the industry is affected by drugs and alcohol is now over 2 years old. The figures were alarming enough back in 2016, but now we don’t know whether the issue is getting better or worse. Without new figures it’s unlikely that people will take action. Just last month, Barratt Developments announced they had introduced random drugs and alcohol tests as a way of focussing more on health and safety after their injury rate increased by more than a fifth last year. It’s time for the industry to take control of drugs and alcohol on site, but I do believe we need more figures and data to know where action is needed. Until then, I think we need to make sure we’re all doing the best we can to ensure health and safety on site is a top priority.

The CCS online course is available on the CCS Best Practice hub and offers lessons on drugs and alcohol in the workplace and what can be done to address misuse.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

11/10/18 How freelance construction effects the industry

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

A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that 1.12 million construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) in 2017/18. A 4% increase on the figures for 2016/17, indicating self-employment is on the rise.

The subject of self-employment has been the cause of many industry discussions over the past few years, with several debates over whether freelancers are helping or hindering the industry. I think self-employed workers can help the industry by relieving companies of the pressures of meeting deadlines and recruiting new workers, however, as an industry we must ensure our whole workforce is treated fairly and with respect.

A flexible workforce is a great way for companies to meet project demands. With government targets approaching, companies need to be able to hire the right number of people, with the right skills, at the right stage of the project and using freelancers can help them to do this. Using self employed workers can also help boost productivity. With full-time employees, specialist work can be slow and expensive, whilst taking on freelancers means companies can use people with highly-specialised skills and also avoid unused downtime, which can result in huge savings on labour costs.

Sadly, false self-employment is always going to be an issue which adversely impacts individuals and, importantly, the reputation of our industry. There are a number of reasons some companies claim people are falsely self-employed; National Insurance Contributions (NICs) can be avoided and individuals can also make tax savings. However, self-employed people lose their right to sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions which can create inequalities in the way people working alongside each other are treated.

Ask anybody from the industry and most will be able to give you an example of a contractor who has been hauled to an employment tribunal facing a claim for employment rights from a supposedly self-employed contractor. There have also been concerns about companies using the uncertainties around the rules to exploit workers, disguising the true nature of a contract and unfairly leaving the worker without proper benefits or payment. It has rightly been labelled a ‘con’ by some people, with the union Unite declaring that the government has failed to reduce such bogus self-employment which is very worrying. The rules surrounding self-employment need to be made clear and although there are a few who exploit the uncertainty, there are many who simply don’t know where they stand.

Freelance construction workers seem to be increasingly in demand, due to a ‘pay per project or task’ model now being used by many employers. Offering the chance for more flexibility and increased productivity, freelancers look set to play a vital role in the industry in the future. With nearly half of workers already being classified as self-employed, self-employment is going to have an effect on the future of the industry, therefore we must ensure the regulations around self-employment are made clear to everyone.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

4/10/18 – Getting comfortable with BIM

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

It’s been over 2 years since the government’s Building Information Model (BIM) mandate came into effect. From 4 April 2016, the collaborative use of BIM Level 2 in all government procured buildings became mandatory, with all asset information relating to a project becoming electronically shareable in a common environment – which basically means that projects using Level 2 BIM, at a minimum, are using 3D CAD models that have been developed by each design team and then these models must be shared in a common file format.

BIM has been identified as a key enabler on the construction sector’s journey to becoming a truly digital industry. Despite this, how to get started with BIM still remains unclear for a lot of industry professionals.

So, what is BIM? BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more effectively plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. If refers to a collaborative method of working which is based on the generation and exchange of data and information between the various project parties. It allows more intelligent use of resources, optimisation of workflows and leads to productivity and profitability. It allows all interested parties to assess the same information at the same time, whether you’re on site or at a desk. All in all, leading to better outcomes through more effective communication and collaboration – a win win!

If you don’t know where to start or feel you’ve been left behind, The Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) North East, in association with Constructing Excellence in the North East and BIM Strategy, are hosting an event designed to close the knowledge gap and make BIM easier for businesses in the North East to both adopt and benefit from. The daylong event will:

  • Focus on several key BIM projects
  • Explore and share knowledge and experience of using BIM
  • Help you really understand what BIM Level 2 means in practice
  • Look at how to use BIM concepts from the perspective of; clients, project teams, facilities management
  • Identify where to find world-leading expertise here in the North East.

The event will have key speakers from clients and industry covering all aspects of the BIM journey from project inception to FM including; John Adams, BIM Strategy, Iain Garfield, Newcastle University, Simon Lewis, Womble Bond Dickinson and Graham Kelly from BIM Academy.

The event is ideal for those in the industry who are looking to adopt BIM into their organisation or for those who want to progress with BIM and aren’t sure where to go. There’s no need to panic, BIM really isn’t as scary as you think.

For more information or to book your place for this event please contact Leanne Conaway on 0191 500 7880 or

The importance of a diverse, supported and happy workforce

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

Constructing Excellence (CE) has teamed up with Balfour Beatty to create an initiative to get more women in construction to director level and beyond.

There is a clear move towards embracing inclusion and demolishing stereotypes within the industry at the minute. The industry needs people from different personal and professional backgrounds, bringing new and innovative ideas.  With the skills shortage at a high, we’ve realised we’re in no position to be looking at anything other than level of skill and potential when recruiting workers. There’s lots of focus on getting women into the industry and the number of women joining the industry has increased over the last 10 years, but it’s time to look at retention and progression and ensuring women have equal opportunity to progress within the industry in accordance with their ability and desire, basically to get to where they want to be. Why shouldn’t they?

The initiative, which will be led by CE will aim to create a blueprint for firms to help them retain women engineers into their 30s and 40s and support their return to work after career breaks. It’s not just a North East issue, it’s something that needs to be looked at across the whole industry, nationwide. We’re not looking at recruiting young or unemployed people, it’s time to target the people who are often overlooked, the 30 something female industry workers and turn them into directors, CEOs and leaders.

We need a talented workforce diverse in gender, age, race, values, experience etc. Diverse perspectives are how we supress tendencies and old-fashioned ways of thinking. It reduces the risk of groupthink and is how things move forward. Without diversity, we’d struggle with productivity, especially with how fast things are moving with technology at the minute. We desperately need new ideas and different ways of doing things whether that be construction methods, materials or management styles.

It’s common sense that people work better when they’re happy, and inclusive working environments bring a wealth of benefits to everyone. By creating a positive, safe and healthy workplace, you’ll see a boost in morale, improve your employees’ work-life balance, increase employee engagement and, in turn, positively impact your business. In any industry, the desire is to have a healthy, productive workforce and construction is no different. We all want to work somewhere where we feel comfortable, safe and valued, and when we do, that’s where we’ll thrive.

On Wednesday (3 October), we’re delighted to be hosting the 2018 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change which will focus on increasing productivity and addressing contributing factors. The importance of an industry culture change resulting in a happier, more diverse workforce will therefore feature strongly.

For more information on the event please contact Leanne Conaway, on 0191 500 7880 or email

The government’s school building plan – are we on track to hit targets?



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

As the schools go back after the Summer and the traffic on a morning gets much busier, I’ve been thinking of the government’s plans for school buildings and whether we’re on track to hit the targets set.

Think back to 2015 when the government set aside £23bn to pay for school building and refurbishment programmes up to 2021. They were originally designed to fix the £6.7bn problem of school disrepair and tackle the challenge of creating hundreds of thousands of new pupil places to meet forecast demand. However, we’re now at the half way point and many fear that the pace is slowing and we’re not on plan to hit the target.

The government’s response to claims that they’re not on track was that they’ve already created an additional 825,000 school places and are on target to deliver another million in the next two years. The government had also set the target of 500 free schools in its 2017 manifesto and we’re still waiting on the education secretary, Damian Hinds, to speak about Wave 13 publicly. The old saying goes ‘no news is good news’, but that doesn’t seem to apply here. Silence leads to speculation, which is never a good thing, especially when there is evidence that work is coming forward slower than expected. For example, last year’s government construction and infrastructure pipeline predicted approximately £5bn would be spent in 2017/18 on school’s capital, £1bn more than ultimately was spent therefore supporting the view that spending did not come forward as hoped.

Then there’s the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) covering 537 schools, which should be well into the second phase of delivering 277 schools by 2021. A departmental source said the drop in capital spend last year was due to the winding-down of the first phase of the PSBP, which has now built 237 of the promised 260 schools.  In the PSBP, the industry was doing hundreds of schools a year sometimes, but PSBP2 is much more of a slow burn. At this stage that should equate to about 80 projects a year, but Building Magazine have announced that the figures they have seen are well below that. If phase two is proving slow, what does that mean for plans post 2021? Will there be a phase three?

There are lots of questions left unanswered and given the government’s silence on many things, I suspect many people will be expecting answers in the chancellor’s 2019 Spring Statement. The industry is already nervous pre-Brexit, so I think we deserve some indication from the government on the way things are going.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

13/09/18 Mental Health in the Industry


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

Health and Safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. There are many physical risks that come with working in the industry, but lately there’s been such an emphasis on mental health and how important it is to speak out that everyone has finally realised just how important it is.

This week, the Duke of Cambridge announced plans to launch an online initiative to support mental health in the workplace, offering employees training, information and resources to promote positive mental wellbeing. Created alongside mental health charity Mind, the Mental Health at Work project will act as a web portal that will help managers to support staff who may be struggling. It comes after a study by Mind revealed that 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. The survey of 44,000 employees also found that only half of those who had experienced poor mental health at work had spoken to their employer about it – suggesting that sadly, 25% of UK workers are struggling in silence.

Here, at Constructing Excellence, we do lots to help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the industry. Last year we raised money for The Lighthouse Club Construction Industry Charity at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards and raised over £4000. The charity is the only charity that provides financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families who have suffered an injury or long-term illness or simply need a helping hand. The charity also funds and manages a 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline which is the first point of contact for those who need free and confidential support services.

We work in an industry where we all need to work together to change the stigma relating to mental health, which is why the Mental Health at Work project and charities like the Lighthouse Club are so important. The charity receives no public funding and relies on the generosity of those within in the industry, which is why we’re more than happy to be supporting their charity golf day on September 20, next week. The annual North East Lighthouse Construction Charity golf event is attended by regional and national contractors based in the North East. Without events like this and continued regional and national support, the charity would be unable to offer help and assistance to those that need it, at a time when it might be needed most.

You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans, they’re simply there to help. Anyone can call for free any time from any phone on 116 123 and the number will not appear on your phone bill. Alternatively, call the Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956 or visit the newly formed, both of which are fantastic outlets to support the industry we work in.


For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email