15th September Journal Column

By Stephanie Glendinning, Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of Strategic Projects for Newcastle University’s Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

The BBC News website recently featured a number of articles about familiar landmarks on journeys that mean home is just a few more minutes away. You won’t be surprised to hear that The Angel of the North, with its view over both the East Coast Main Line and A1, featured from our region. There’s no greater site than The Angel of the North after a long journey home.

This prompted me to reflect on just how often the built environment is used to not only identify home, but to symbolise a town or city. We do it locally. In Morpeth, the clock tower. Durham, the cathedral. Gateshead, the Sage. And there are few sights a North Easterner will take more pride in than the Great North Run pictured on the Tyne Bridge but enough romance. Whether conscious or otherwise, built environment and infrastructure influences how people perceive a place, its economy and its people.

For example, in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa isn’t simply a collection of hotel, office and residential space. It is a statement of ambition, prosperity, and technical ability. There are many more examples around the world, from various points in history, of buildings and constructions that have symbolised wealth, fortitude and capability, such as, Hadrian’s Wall, The Empire State Building, and the Millau Viaduct.

There is already a great deal of the North East’s built environment in which we can take great pride and this week saw the opening of another fantastic addition. Newcastle University’s £59m Urban Sciences Building is the latest building to be completed as part of the £350m Science Central initiative on the former Scottish and Newcastle brewery site. The building will be home to the University’s School of Computing, and there is plenty of teaching, research and study space incorporated in to the 12,500sqm design. But there is much more to the building than meets the eye. Designed as a ‘building as lab’, it has been built not only to provide a world class academic space but to inform the next generation of urban sustainability. The building and its surroundings are themselves experiments that use micro-metering to provide detailed, real time performance data. This will be used to inform the future design of building services, materials selection, urban drainage, energy systems and urban infrastructure.

The construction process is something we can be proud of too. Not only was it delivered on time, on budget, but Bowmer & Kirkland’s use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the project has set new standards for the university in the management of residual risk in build projects.

The North East has a built environment littered with striking landmarks, great achievements and a rich history. With the Urban Sciences Building, we also now have a project that others will look to and study in the future as engineers, designers and researchers around the world seek to develop cities sustainably.

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

8th September Journal Column


By John Nielsen Director of CK21 and CIC/APS/CENE board member

The Construction Industry Council, North East are holding a North East Construction Summit on Wednesday 20 September at Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel. The aim of the Summit is to work with the construction industry leaders from the region and national experts to develop a North East Construction Strategy focussed specifically on the issues, strengths and potential of our region whilst also taking into consideration the national factors affecting the North East – finally an initiative focussed solely on helping the North East.

In 2015 the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) commissioned Mark Farmer to review the labour model in the industry and look at the constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development in the UK. The report, subtitled ‘Modernise or Die’, was a hard-read, identifying factors that have contributed to the downfall of the industry over the years, including low productivity, a dysfunctional training, funding and delivery model and a lack of collaboration. The report gave us a realistic view of where the industry was at and suggested what was needed to help the industry progress. Mark Farmer will start the Summit by discussing his report in more detail to help us assess the issues, strengths and potential in the North East.

Other topics that will be covered include: Innovation, People and Skills, Productivity, Procurement and Digital Solutions. Digital is the key enabler to allow us to build a more sustainable built environment, and we’ve certainly upped our game in terms of digital solutions over the years. The Building Information Modelling (BIM) level 2 mandate is now well underway, we’ve got apps for managing health and safety, augmented and virtual reality, even robot builders. The NBS also launched their Online Viewer, a quick and easy way for everyone working on a project to view a 3D model and associated specification without the need for additional software or a licence. With just a web browser and a free NBS ID, projects can be brought to life with linked manufacturer and specification data.

We might be making progress in the digital world but in terms of house building, we still have a long way to go. In the North East last year, an estimated 6,440 homes were built vs an annual target of 9,000 and only 1,420 of the 3,800 target for affordable homes were built. We need to take a step back and look at the region as whole, to think of ways that everyone can benefit – and that’s exactly what the North East Construction Strategy plans to do.

Speakers on the day include; Don Ward, CEO, Construction Excellence; Steve Crake, Head of Procurement and Supply Chain, Northumbrian Water; Dale Sinclair, RIBA Ambassador for Collaboration and Technical and many more.

To book your place at the North East Construction Summit or book exhibition space please contact CENE on 0191 5007880, catriona@cene.org.uk or amy@cene.org.uk

1st September Journal Column

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

The NHS have been working with ten housing developments across the country to build and shape communities.

The new proposal to build 10 ‘healthy new towns’ from Darlington to Devon, will unite public health, NHS providers and commissioners, and planning and housing development. If the news that they’re planning on building 76,000 new-build homes across England, wasn’t good enough, they’re also going to use incentives to encourage those living in them to live healthier lifestyles.

Residents could win free cinema tickets, food discounts and low-cost gym memberships if they sign up to apps that track their exercise progress, encouraging residents to be more active. If they hit exercise targets, residents could even be offered money off their supermarket bills – every little helps, especially when you’ve just bought a new-build home.

Plans include providing access to safe green spaces to play; fast-food free zones around schools; neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible; and easier access to public transport with safer cycling and pedestrian networks. There have been suggestions of ‘dementia friendly’ streets with wider pavements, fewer trip hazards and LCD moving signs to make directions easier.

In Darlington, the only North-East development (so far), there are plans to build 2,500 new homes and a group of ‘virtual care homes’, a group of homes with shared facilities will link to a digital care hub, allowing residents to live independently whilst also giving them the reassurance that help is there if they need it. The NHS can also use technology to monitor the health of residents in the ‘smart homes’.

The developments across the country range from less than 1,000 to 15,000 homes, (approximately 170,000 residents in total) and sites vary in terms of land values, socio-economic profiles, population demographics and health needs.

It’s rare for the NHS to get involved in the built environment and the fact they are, shows just how important it is that homes and neighbourhoods promote healthy lifestyles. More consideration of urban designs, new technology and wellbeing during the planning stages can help achieve this. We’re constantly crying out for new homes, so the news of over 70,000 new builds is welcome, and if they help get us healthier and fitter as a country, then it’s a win-win situation. The summer is almost over and before we know it, we’ll be back on our January diets, wishing we had these incentives to help us on our way.

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.


25th August Journal Column

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


When you think of social media, I doubt construction is at the forefront of your mind, but then again when you think about tech-driven industries, construction was never one of them and just look at us now!

Whether we like it or not, technology is the world we live in now and it is time for the industry to move into the world of social media, it’s what keeps our world connected. I’m sorry to say it, but if you’re company isn’t on social media yet, you’re falling behind.

Social media allows you to network with your audience and other companies in the industry. You can also see what your competition is up to and how their audience interaction is doing. SME’s will also benefit massively from recommendations, whether that be a professional review or just a mention of your name.
Early analysis of the survey by Competitive Advantage Consultancy has found 90% of industry professionals are active on social media and that 43% use social networks for sourcing construction product information and ideas.

This year, early analysis of initial findings shows that 78% of respondents use LinkedIn, and the majority (91%) use it for work, a marked increase of 42% when compared to 2015. Over 370,000 LinkedIn members are engineers, with construction coming in second as the most represented industry on the platform. Facebook has also seen an increase with 27% of Facebook users now using it in a work capacity.

Most companies now have Facebook and Twitter as a means of promoting themselves (we like the odd tweet now and again), with LinkedIn being used mainly for recruitment. It’s also worth setting up Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube accounts, to push photo, video and ‘behind the scenes’ style content, especially if you’re wanting to target the younger generation.

The only thing with social media, is that it’s hard to control. You can’t entirely manage what employees are posting on personal platforms and you can’t stop external sources making negative comments. It’s especially difficult on a platform like Snapchat where videos only appear for a short time before disappearing forever. We saw this earlier this month, where footage of Apple Park, one of the world’s more secretive construction projects, Apple’s new headquarters, was leaked on Snapchat.

I understand companies, especially those as big as Apple, like to do the ‘big reveal’ at the end of the project, but considering the skills gap and need for a younger generation, I don’t think it would hurt to do ‘sneak peeks’ of sites. You often see sites hidden behind giant hoardings and you see nothing until you see the finished results, but why not show off what’s behind them and the work that’s gone on to get us there. It’s likely to increase interest and get people talking, and it’s the perfect way to target the younger generation and get them interested in the work we do – because some of it is very impressive, if I do say so myself!

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.

18th August Journal Column

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


I have voiced my opinion numerous times on the need for more opportunities for young people and for better training standards for those beginning their career in construction. The whole industry must attract more people and bring in more apprentices to help address the skills shortage.

 Earlier this year, another North East company, MGL Group joined some of the top UK construction companies by becoming a member of the 5% Club – a scheme promoting the employment of apprentices in the industry.  Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall and Laing O’Rourke have already committed to apprentices making up to and beyond 5% of their total workforce.  

The 5% Club is focused on creating the drive behind the recruitment of apprentices and graduates into the workforce. It was founded as a means of investing in the next generation of skills – something the industry needs to do consistently to reduce the chance of future skills shortages. The aim of the campaign is to tackle both the chronic skills shortage and youth unemployment in Britain and help the country remain at the forefront of innovation.  Members are asked to make a public declaration to support the achievement of 5% of their overall UK headcount being on a formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate programme and achieve this within five years. It also asks members to publicly report their progress in their Annual Report.

 Earlier this year, the MGL Group also launched MGL Group Training Services, a company committed to providing construction related training. It’s this type of commitment we need to help boost youth employment and end the skills shortage and I’m proud that it’s come from the North East.

 It’s so positive to see so many companies pledging their commitment to apprentices. For such a long time, apprenticeships carried a very unjust stigma as an easy alternative to the academic route.  In fact, an apprenticeship is a structured programme of training and development, approved by government. At level two, an apprenticeship is worth five GCSEs and at level three it’s worth two A Levels. There are also Degree Apprenticeships Programmes, with Northumbria University set to start three this September. The industry now has the skills and resources to train and educate those who have taken the apprenticeship route and this can be seen at all levels across the industry.

 Apprenticeships give young people hands-on experience and the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst learning skills and gaining industry knowledge. With GCSE results day happening next week (24 August) now is the perfect time to show young people that we are investing in them. They are the future labour market. They will dictate how successful we are. Therefore, the better opportunities we create for them now, the better the future will be for them and us.

 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.

11th August Journal Column

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

For a long time, the construction industry was one of the least automated around, but thanks to the likes of Building Information Modelling (BIM), virtual and augmented reality and new technology, the industry is making its mark on the digital world.

Newcastle based Space Group have been working with The University of Stirling to launch a new app to help improve workplaces, public buildings and homes for people living with dementia.
The Intelligence, Research, Iterative, Design Interface System (IRIDIS) app will be free to download and will address physical aspects of design which impact upon older people’s quality of life and their ability to live independently, such as lighting, colour contrast and textures to aid day-to-day living, reinforcing memory and personal identity. It will have the ability to make recommendations on property design and refurbishment. It has links to the BIM provider bimstore, allowing designers to search and download BIM objects from manufacturers that are specifically designed and approved to meet dementia care design standards.
Those living with dementia, family members, healthcare or industry professionals, or anyone using the app, will be asked to take photographs and answer questions about their surroundings. Within approx. 20 minutes the app can assess the suitability of a two-bedroom home for an older person. Suggested improvements could be anything from changing a light bulb to reconfiguring a whole bathroom.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, with the number expected to increase to one million by 2025. With the industry responsible for building homes, workplaces and public buildings, that’s one million people we need to take into consideration in the next 8 years. Care provision will need to keep pace with this increase so those living with dementia can continue to live with as much independence as possible, whether that be in new accommodation designed entirely for their needs or existing buildings that have been altered to cater for them.

Dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life, ahead of cancer, and in the UK we shockingly spend less on dementia care than on other major medical conditions. The app means that, no matter how little your knowledge or awareness of dementia, you can still be confident that you are providing safe environments for people to live in.

As with anything, you only get out of the process what you put in and those that have made the effort to bring the industry into the digital age, are those that will benefit in the long-term. The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has dedicated the last 25 years to collating research and working on the app – that’s a lot of time, effort and hard work, so I have my fingers crossed that it all pays off, for their sake and the millions of people that could benefit from it.

The app will be available to download from Thursday 21 September, on International Alzheimer’s Day.

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.

4th August Journal Column

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


We work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. Saving the planet is something we’re all keen to do, everybody wants to be seen as ‘green’, anything from recycling to washing at low temperatures will make a difference. But one of the biggest differences that can be made lies within our industry, in house-building.

Companies are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient and we’ve really stepped up our game in the last few years. Offsite construction is now pretty much the norm, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which may be unconventional methods but they’re the methods that are making a difference.

We’re definitely making headway, but with the Governments ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a national basis by at least 80% by 2050 and 34% by 2020 looming over our heads, the pressure is still on. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive also requires all new buildings to be “nearly zero energy” by December 2020 (which is quickly catching up to us).

One way to ensure all new buildings are ‘nearly zero energy’ is to look at ‘Green Buildings’. These buildings are designed to be environmentally-friendly, as well as resource efficient, reducing unnecessary waste of energy, gas and water.  For a while, Green Building was once the new trend in the industry, but it is now an essential part of protecting our environment, and something that all future builds need to take into consideration.

There are five key areas the industry should consider, that, with the smallest changes, could make the biggest difference:

– Materials – It’s important to plan which type of materials will be utilised, but there is now an increased focus on implementing materials which are sustainable and energy efficient, rather than cost effective in order to provide long-term benefits and lower carbon levels.

– Recycling – Recycling materials such as aluminium within builds, will effectively reduce the level of waste products which are currently sent to landfill.

– Insulation and Solar – Ensure builds incorporate cavity wall insulation and double glazing to ensure heat does not escape. Installing solar panelling systems in both traditional and modern properties will capture as much natural energy as possible and reduce CO2 emissions.

– Water – Think of ways to best use and harvest rainwater, which can be used again for gardening or toilet flushing.

– Transport – To reduce transportation CO2 emissions, source materials locally. If transporting resources is necessary, using energy efficient vehicles will help lower emissions.

All buildings need light, heat and water, it’s about looking at different ways to achieve this that are as efficient as possible. Transport is pretty much a necessity in our industry, but there are still more economical ways of doing it. That 2020 target is fast approaching, and in three years I would love to be able to say our industry played a huge part in helping us get there!

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.


28th July Journal Column

By Eve Wilson, Cost Manager, Turner & Townsend and G4C North East Co-Chair

As an industry, we’ve been dealing with a skills shortage for quite some time, focussing on upskilling and training apprentices to fill the void, but we might need to go beyond training and commit a little time and effort into just helping young people prepare for the world of work.  If we connect young people, graduates and employers, in the longer term the commitment will pay off and should help to fill the skills gap.

Career Ready is a UK wide charity that runs structured, employer led careers programmes for students between 16 – 19 years old. They aim to increase the employability of students through a series of engagements with businesses and industry professionals.

The ‘Be a mentor, make a difference’ campaign aims to show the impact that employees can have on young people. Mentors have a wide range of backgrounds from recent graduates to managing directors, in both the public and private sector. The programme runs for 12-months. Every student is matched to a mentor, who use their experience and knowledge to help a young person develop resilience and confidence for work. 75% of those surveyed experienced professional development as a result of becoming a Career Ready mentor. It helps in developing coaching skills and spotting future talent for your company, and it’s a pretty nice feeling to know you’ve made an impact on a young person’s life – a win-win situation!

I joined the mentoring programme earlier this year and only being half way through, I can’t believe how beneficial it’s already been. At our first meeting, we talked about my experience through education and into work and it was then I realised I did have more to offer than originally thought. I understood her concerns and the pressures put onto students which if anything I feel seems to have increased over the last five years.

I have watched my student succeed in exams, gain a work experience placement and we are now working together on looking at university choices. I have grown in confidence in what I feel I am able to offer the next generation and I’ve developed an insight into the reasons for the skills gap and how within G4C, the network for young professionals in the industry, we can do something about this.

Within the industry we are fully aware of the current skills gap, and yet we have highly intelligent students ready to choose their university degree with no idea about the role of Quantity Surveyors, Project Managers, or Facilities Management. Getting more industry professionals involved in a programme like this, will help spread the word of the opportunities the industry has to offer. It’s just one hour a month but it could be life changing for your student and you never know what you might learn from it yourself.

To register as a volunteer please visit  www.careerready.org.uk or contact Karen McCartney Regional Manager North East on karen.mccartney@careerready.org.uk

21st July Journal Column

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

The industry’s skills shortage has always been something that has concerned me, so I’m always happy to hear of initiatives or training aimed at upskilling employees or training new recruits with the skills the industry needs.

This year, through the Structured and Flexible Funds, Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has £20 million to invest in projects to; reduce skills gaps and shortages, increase access to the right training, increase the appeal of working in the industry and increase the added value per employee.

Within that, £3 million is available through the CITB Skills and Training Fund (part of the Flexible Fund), introduced to help small and micro employers and specialist federations with their skills and training needs. The funds, available to levy registered companies, vary in value depending on the number of PAYE employees;

  • £5,000 for up to 49 staff
  • £7,500 for up to 74 staff
  • £10,000 for up to 99 staff

Up to £10,000 a year to pay for training for your employees if you are in-scope to CITB – that sounds like an opportunity you shouldn’t miss!

Since January 2016, 60 North East employers have had successful Skills and Training Fund applications, totalling over £277,500 with approximately 700 beneficiaries; 17 micro businesses, 31 SMEs and 4 large employers have all benefitted. We are the second most successful region for claims within this fund and are known for our commitment to training – an accolade we should all be proud of.

To increase application numbers, CITB have tried to make the Skills and Training Fund as simple to access. The form filling process has been reduced, there are some eligibility boxes to tick, a couple of sentences about why the training is required and some quotes from training organisations to evidence the amount of funding being requested – it really couldn’t be easier.

Employers can claim once per 12-month period. The first £5,000 is paid up front and the remainder paid upon completion. The fund covers most skills and training interventions that will help your business, not just construction specific training and skills. However, you can only apply once a year so it’s worth undergoing a complete Skills and Training Review for your workforce to maximise the value of your application.

McCarrick Construction from Chester le Street has experienced a trio of benefits since applying for the Skills and Training Fund. Applying for approximately £900 to upskill their plumber has enabled the firm to carry out gas installations for their housing projects rather than outsourcing this work. This;

·         will save the company £500 a year;

  • ensures McCarrick Construction has a wider range of expertise to offer clients;
  • has led to the company training an apprentice under the guidance of an experienced plumber.

Applications for this funding are open now until 20 November 2017. For more information, contact Mark David, Assistant Fund Manager, CITB on funding@citb.co.uk. More information is also available at www.citb.co.uk/funding.

14th July Journal Column

By Kate Lloyd, Partnership Manager, Constructing Excellence in the North East

For women, proving their worth in a male dominated industry has been a long and gruelling task. Although we have come a long way in terms of equality, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to be done.

Earlier this month, Loughborough University held a debate on whether women get a good deal in construction. Eight ex-students who now work in the industry took part, seven of which have only worked in the industry for under five years. Does this give a true representation of the thoughts of all women in the industry?

I spoke to one female Engineer who explained some of the casual sexism she has faced. As a Site Engineer she is frequently asked to take minute meetings, undertake document control or do admin jobs not within her job description. At first, she accepted these roles to fit in or be seen to be keen to help out, but overtime she realised whilst these are necessary tasks, by accepting them she was potentially changing the way her colleagues saw her and keeping her away from her on-site role, ultimately affecting her promotion potential.

Those involved in the debate felt that quotas for women is not the way forward and I agree. It’s about treating everyone as a ‘person’ regardless of gender. Yes, women have struggled in the industry, but favouring women causes more of an issue for the company and the woman herself. It’s in the industry’s best interest to recruit and promote based on talent.

As with most ‘women in construction’ debates, discussions included the lack of female toilets on site. It’s a basic human right that we have the facilities we need but do we need individual male/female toilets? Unisex toilets with all facilities should be enough. If the issue is that site toilets are unsanitary, we must address that. Unisex toilets are becoming more popular in all industries, whether they be a cost or space saving initiative, they also support other challenges e.g. the transgender agenda.

As an industry, we are moving forward from the equality agenda to talk about Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) across the industry, between people, professions and companies. In the Autumn, we plan to bring practical support through the FIR Toolkit, free to construction companies and suppliers via the Supply Chain School. More information is available at; https://www.supplychainschool.co.uk/default/fairness-inclusion-and-respect 

I must say, in our region, I’ve found that attitudes towards women in construction have changed significantly and are more positive than ever before. We may still have work to do but there is an appetite to improve but we still need your help.

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.