29th September Journal Column


By Gillian Gomersall, Director of NRL

Construction is one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what it does, it has the most potential to make a difference. More than any other industry, its decisions, innovation, ideas and products have a direct impact on the environment, the local community and area.

The industry provides huge social value opportunities. Social value is the notion of a contract being awarded to a company based on the impact the agreement will have on the wider community, rather than just the price being the lowest. It can be anything from, providing work opportunities, using local suppliers or recycled materials or engaging with schools or community groups.

Recruitment company, NRL Ltd has been working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) charity to help recruit volunteers. RVS is a charity that has helped older people stay active, independent and able to continue to contribute to society. They help with everything from day to day tasks such as; leaving the house or shopping, popping round for a chat and raising awareness of the issues older people face on a national level.

NRL provides recruitment, training, rail maintenance and Non-Destructive testing (NDT) services to the technical, engineering and construction industries. They provide people and skills across the UK and internationally and have a database of over 275,000 potential candidates. They have successfully provided thousands of trades and staff to major capital construction projects on both a temporary and permanent basis, something the industry is extremely grateful of, given the skills shortage they’ve struggled with for some time. NRL strive to set the industry standard in recruitment and contracting services, but their work with RVS is also setting the standard for companies outside of the industry.

NRL actively encourages its staff to give back to local communities and offers all members of staff a charity day to volunteer or fundraise for a charity of their choice. Six members of NRL staff have already used their charity days to help out at RVS coffee mornings. The events were held in conjunction with Marks & Spencer and were a chance for service users and volunteers to get together and enjoy an afternoon of coffee, cakes and singing; for most users, this is the only time they get to leave the house. They also held pop up volunteer recruitment stores at The Bridges, Sunderland and had an impressive 9 sign ups in one day!

NRL pride themselves on their core values; openness, care, accountability, professionalism, commerciality and integrity. Core values are what support the vision, shape the culture and reflect what a company values. They are used in the decision-making process, and should be honoured through all aspects of the company, regardless of the industry. Having encouraged others to volunteer, NRL put their money where their mouth is and got involved. Their commitment to their values, the industry and the local community should be commended and other companies in the industry could follow suit.

For more information on NRL, please contact Director, Gillian Gomersall, on 0191 418 8067 or email ggomersall@nrl.co.uk

22nd September Journal Column


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

The industry’s skills shortage has been topical for a number of years, with initiatives and training to upskill employees and train new recruits with the skills the industry needs. With the skills shortage at a high, we’re in no position to be looking at anything other than level of skill and potential when recruiting more workers.

To be anywhere near reaching the targets set by Construction 2025, we need to be encouraging the entire talent pool and not excluding potential candidates, for any reason. We need diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, values, experience and behaviours. 

Without realising, we’re all guilty of unconscious bias – making snap judgements about someone or something based on pre-existing opinions or views, our opinions are formed based on our culture and background.  Unconscious bias can influence the type of people we recruit and who we choose to promote, and it means your company will miss out on the different opinions, experiences and beliefs a diverse workforce can offer.

Constructing Equality works with the industry to raise the profile of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) industry professionals and provide support and advice for the workers that need it. They also run unconscious bias training, coaching and workshops to ensure everyone is given a fair chance, whether that be in recruitment or just providing an opinion that is heard.

Attitudes towards the industry’s LGBT workforce are improving and many firms are working towards creating a more inclusive environment. Companies including Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier and Laing O’Rourke marched for the first time at Pride under the LGBT network group, #BuildingEquality. Last year, the results of Construction News’ annual LGBT+ survey, showed that approx. 71% of the industry’s LGBT workforce felt they could not be open about their sexuality or gender on construction sites, and more than half felt being LGBT stopped them progressing in their career – a heartbreaking statistic to read. I’m interested to see the results from this year’s survey, after the industry was so well represented in several Pride marches up and down the country.

As in any industry, people perform better when they can be themselves. Research has shown that making the workplace more inclusive for LGBT employees brings business benefits including: better job satisfaction and productivity among staff, better staff retention, more choice when recruiting new staff and an overall improved reputation.

The industry is no longer the ‘stereotypical’ dirty, dangerous construction site full of white, heterosexual, ‘tough’ men. We’ve come on leaps and bounds with understanding the positive benefits of a diverse workforce and multiple initiatives and schemes to support further improvement.

Here at CENE, we are planning to hold a meeting to discuss setting up an LGBT network for construction in the North East. If you are interested in getting involved either as someone who identifies as LGBT or as an ally, please contact 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.

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@cene4.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.