Reintroducing colleagues back to the office ‘the believe way’

reintroducing colleagues back to the office ‘the believe way’

Covid-19 has affected us all in numerous ways, with many of us working from home for the first time and large swathes of the workforce having to balance their work with caring responsibilities.

At believe housing, we were able to establish our ‘work from home’ arrangements for all colleagues seamlessly and as soon as lockdown commenced. This was largely due to the plans we’d put in place in the six months prior to lockdown, to create a more flexible and agile approach to where and how our people work. Something we call ‘working the believe way’.

This approach continues to be at the forefront of our thinking as we now begin to reintroduce our people back into our offices. We’ve considered how we ensure our colleagues are in the right place, at the right time, to do their job. And in many cases the answer continues to be ‘working from home’ for the foreseeable future. So, we’ve asked how we can support our people’s wellbeing in that case, ensuring all colleagues achieve the right balance between home working and a return to the office. And, we’ve had to fundamentally consider what working in a Covid-19 Secure workplace looks like, and how we ensure the health and safety of everyone when they do return to the office.

Like many businesses we’ve followed government guidelines and implemented Covid-19 Secure measures across our offices to maintain two-metre social distancing. Where this isn’t possible, we’ve implemented solutions to minimise the transmission risk. We’ve installed one-way and two-way circulation routes with dedicated ‘passing points’ and ‘waiting spaces’; provided hand sanitisation stations operated by foot peddle; installed sensors in our restrooms to signal occupation; and provided all colleagues returning to the office with their own personal protective equipment (PPE) including hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes, and a face covering.

With these measures in place, we’ve given all colleagues the option to use a dedicated area of our office in small groups of up to ten people throughout July and August, to be able to hold socially-distanced team meetings or an informal wellbeing gathering. All sessions are booked in advance by managers and held on dedicated days and given timeslots. This is to limit the numbers of people on site, but also to ensure rigorous cleaning and hygiene of the space once it has been used. We’ve also provided every colleague with access to a short video around the Covid-19 Secure measures we’ve implemented and demonstrated how everyone must use those measures upon their return to the office.

Those colleagues who have now returned for their short team session have not only loved the opportunity to see their colleagues in person but have also been extremely thankful for the safety measures and the thought that the organisation has given to their health and wellbeing. But this isn’t something believe housing wants thanks for, it’s what ‘working the believe way’ is all about.

To view more information on how Believe Housing are providing services during COVID19 for their customers please go to their website

National Apprenticeship Week – Look Beyond

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

As I write this, businesses up and down the country are taking part in National Apprenticeship Week (3-7 February) – a week for raising awareness and celebrating apprenticeships and how rewarding they can be.

The theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship week is exactly what it needs to be, ‘Look Beyond’ – celebrating the diversity and value that apprenticeships bring to employers, the apprentices themselves and communities across the country. The encouragement is to ‘Look Beyond’ traditional routes into employment, ‘Look Beyond’ traditional hiring routes and ‘Look Beyond’ preconceptions around apprenticeships.

For such a long time, apprenticeships carried a very unjust stigma as an easy alternative to the academic route. However, apprenticeships give young people hands-on experience and the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst learning skills and gaining industry knowledge. While we might not be exactly where we need to be, dare I say that I’m happy with the progress we’ve made over the years? I think we’ve finally reached a point where people understand the opportunities apprenticeships offer – they’re a great combination of on- and off-site learning and experience. I can’t speak for the whole of the UK, but in the North East I know that there’s so much support for apprenticeships, and businesses really celebrate their apprentices and everything they achieve.

The PlanBEE higher apprenticeship programme, funded by several local companies, is one of the best I’ve seen, and we’re so lucky it’s here in the North East. The industry wide partnership works together to shape the talent of the future and inspire people to consider a rewarding career in the built environment sector. Young people get on and off the job training from day one, all leading towards a professional qualification and the most important thing, a guaranteed job opportunity upon graduation. The salary has just increased this year, so there’s never been a better time to look into it.

Here at Constructing Excellence, we love nothing more than supporting and celebrating apprentices where possible. Our Generation4Change Awards have an Apprentice of the Year category and last year, the winners of our Student of the Year and Trainee of the Year awards were both apprentices.

While National Apprenticeship Week might be almost over, Hartlepool College are holding the biggest Apprenticeship event in the North East, tonight. They are the best college in the North East for overall apprenticeship achievement and have over 750 apprentices studying with them, so they really know what they’re doing. The event tonight gives you the opportunity to meet potential employers and get expert information.

Don’t forget to look up #NAW2020 to see what else has been going on, up and down the country.

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

Elf and Safety at Christmas

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

In our industry, winter weather, such as strong winds, freezing temperatures and wet conditions all make trips and falls more likely – and more likely to be serious when they do happen. It’s more important than ever to ensure the necessary steps are taken to ensure your safety and the safety of others on site.

Figures released from the HSE found that 49% of fatal injuries registered over a 5-year period, were caused by falling from a height. It doesn’t surprise me that this was the most common cause really, especially at this time of year. Health and safety isn’t just restricted to the construction industry, it affects everybody – we’ve all heard of somebody who has fallen off a set of ladders trying to put up their Christmas decorations.

Around Christmas time we are bombarded with stories of people being told they can no longer throw sweets into the audience at pantomimes, children being banned from throwing snowballs or carol singers being stopped from singing in the street because of ‘elf and safety’ when in reality that’s just not the case. Health and safety is something we should take seriously. So blaming regulations for such traditions being stopped not only dampens festive spirit, but it also trivialises the true purpose of health and safety guidelines. They are there to protect people from risk.

Every year in the run up to Christmas, the HSE promote a ‘12 days of elf ‘n’ safety myths’ campaign to try and change the perception that health and safety stops everybody from having fun. Every year I read them and am horrified at some of the festive activities people claim are ‘against health and safety’. I mean really, what kind of health and safety risk comes from decorating your desk at work? I don’t know about you, but I love making the office all festive at this time of year.

Some of the most commonly encountered myths include:

·         Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year

·         Santa needs a seatbelt in his sleigh

·         Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees should be replaced by artificial ones

·         Seats removed from shops – despite weary Christmas shoppers wanting to rest their tired feet

·         The threat of being sued if you clear snow from outside your business premises or home

·         Coins or charms no longer allowed in Christmas puddings


Let’s be honest, of course you have to make sure that when you include coins in Christmas puddings that children (or anybody else for that matter) don’t eat them, but there comes a point where we just need to be sensible, remember the magic of Christmas and celebrate with our friends and loved ones.

So, from all of us at Constructing Excellence, we wish you a very Merry (and safe!) Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s see what 2020 has in store for us …

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

Construction in a Changing Climate

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

Earlier this year, the UK parliament became the first in the world to declare a national climate emergency, marking a renewed sense of urgency in tacking climate change.

Since then, hundreds of local authorities and organisations have acknowledged that we are in an emergency situation and it’s something we can no longer ignore. Every business of every size must play their part, especially construction.

Our industry is one of the biggest and it contributes to 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint, but because of this and because of what we do, we have the potential to make a difference. More than any other industry, our decisions, innovations, ideas and products have a direct impact on the environment, the local community and area. We accept that we have been part of the problem but that’s why we need to change and become part of the solution.

For us, most of the changes that we need to make to protect the environment can also improve the quality of our final product – a win, win situation. It’s not even necessarily changing how we work; it’s making better decisions and ensuring we are working with and advising construction clients of the opportunities available to them. In the design phase of a project, there are a number of opportunities to make eco-friendly choices including; using recycled or natural building materials that produce less CO2, including renewable energy sources in building designs or even strategic window placement to maximise the use of natural light. Once the building is designed, new opportunities for sustainable construction practices open up on the site and using recycled or reused materials rather than filling local landfills can help reduce construction site waste.

Back in June, major contractors were among business leaders who urged the prime minister to adopt a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050. Skanska, Cundall and Willmott Dixon all signed the letter. This highlights how many of us are adopting more energy efficient practices, so things are moving in the right direction, we just need to continue to drive progress through action, innovation and collaboration. This is no longer a nice to do or just Corporate Social Responsibility, it’s essential for us and all future generations.

Constructing Excellence in the North East has partnered with Climate Action North to bring together organisations from all sectors to discuss the current issues with the climate emergency. The event, which is happening on 12 November, will discuss how the current emergency impacts the day to day running of organisations including procurement and tendering opportunities, how businesses can take action to mitigate the risks involved and how businesses can remain resilient in the changing climate. Industry experts will also be speaking on the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain system and how this translates into projects which address key biodiversity issues.


For more information on the Construction in a Changing Climate event, or to book tickets, contact Grace Collinson, on 0191 500 7880 or email

Making the most of the Skills and Training fund

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

Earlier this week it was reported that not many contractors are aware of and therefore not applying for the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) Skills and Training Fund.

The fund was introduced back in 2016 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

Smaller contractors are missing out on this pot of money that is just sitting there waiting to be put to use. Firms employing less than 100 people can apply for up to £10,000 a year that could be used to pay for training for employees and have a huge impact on how successful a business is.

Training company, Construction Skills People (CSP), has been shouting about the fund and has since seen its clients secure over £250,000 worth of funding to be used towards training. It’s such a good initiative from the CITB, I don’t know why more people aren’t shouting about it – I certainly will be. We need to ensure everyone knows it exists and has the opportunity to benefit from what is essentially free money to help them succeed.

Thankfully, the North East is one of the better regions for applying and being successful in obtaining funding but we still need to keep encouraging more SME’s to apply. Firms such as Esh Construction and McCarrick Construction have already benefited from the fund. McCarrick used the fund to upskill one of their plumbers meaning they can offer more to clients and it saves them money each year. In the first year of the funds being made available 60 North East employers had successful Skills and Training Fund applications, totalling over £277,500 with approximately 700 beneficiaries; 17 micro businesses, 31 SMEs and 4 large employers all benefiting.

Jeremy Wright, CITB Partnerships Manager said: “The CITB Skills and Training Fund is a great opportunity for smaller North East construction employers to access funding to develop a stronger skills base. We would encourage all CITB-registered employers with up to 99 staff to visit our website and submit an application for the fund”. It couldn’t be easier to apply either – what do you have to lose?

I’m always supporting training initiatives, and this is another initiative that gets you one step closer to giving your workforce the training it needs. The good thing about the fund is that it’s not just for young people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for training young people but we need to appreciate the upskilling and reskilling needs of the existing workforce. For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

Investing in Innovation

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

Earlier this month, the Transforming Construction Network Plus launched a new round of funding for innovations in digital, offsite and eco-friendly technology.

The programme will provide up to £600,000 for small research projects, in line with the expectations of the Industrial Strategy and the Transforming Construction Challenge. The programme will support research projects focused on designing and managing buildings through digitally enabled performance management, offsite manufacturing and reducing energy demand by improving quality of build. The Transforming Construction Challenge, which is backed by £170m in research and innovation investment, matched by £250m from industry, was set up to create new construction processes and techniques. The aims of the challenge are for the industry to achieve the governments targets in the 2025 Construction Strategy – reduction in construction costs by a third, 50% improvement in trade balance and 50% reductions in speed and carbon emissions.

We’ve already made a lot of progress and with even more funding being made available for research, innovation and development projects, we’re going from strength to strength in transforming the industry. It couldn’t come at a better time either as we simply cannot deliver the infrastructure and homes that the country needs in the way that we’re operating now and unless things change, we have no hope of hitting the 2025 targets.

We’re all working towards the same goal of what the Industrial Strategy set out last year. In July 2018, the government published the Construction Sector Deal which revealed how government procurement will drive change in the design and assembly of buildings, how the skills challenges faced by the industry will be addressed. It set out what it believes to be the foundations for an ambitious partnership between the government and industry to transform the sector into one that can; build new homes in weeks or days, deliver new buildings at a third of the cost and provide affordable, energy efficient homes. I think everyone is finally on the same page when it comes to innovation and what the industry needs to do, we just need to pull together to maximise the potential for Transforming Construction in the very near future.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are hosting the 2019 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change next week (Wednesday 2nd October), where the focus will be on innovation, skills and zero-waste in design, materials and time. I must admit, it’s been quite embarrassing how much we’ve struggled with innovation in the past, so it’s promising to see how things are improving, although I’m not getting ahead of myself, there’s still a lot of work to be done – I’m certainly up to the challenge, are you?   

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please Grace Collinson, on 0191 500 7880 or email

Responsibility in Accessibility

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

There’s been a lot of focus on inclusivity and diversity in terms of the construction workforce, but when it comes to creating inclusive and accessible buildings, it’s down to the industry to make sure this happens.

Developers, designers and owners of buildings have a responsibility to ensure that the built environment is accessible to everyone. This includes:

•           Wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties

•           Pushchairs and children

•           People with sight or hearing impairments

•           Elderly people

•           People with co-ordination or respiratory problems

There is a lot to consider when designing a building; energy efficiency, materials, costs etc are all huge factors but they must also consider whether it will be comfortable for the end users. Despite a strong framework of legislation and standards, we still don’t always get it right. I don’t think the error is on purpose, it’s just a case of not everyone understanding what is required.

Construction clients are not always up to date with current legislation, often asking for the project or scheme to be Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant, when the DDA hasn’t existed for a number of years. These days, buildings and projects need to adhere to the Equality Act 2010. There’s no one size fits all approach to equality, but the Equality Act 2010 is about reasonable provision of access and means different things when applied to different situations. Therefore the finished project needs to meet the needs of the future user to be compliant.

Part M of the Buildings Regulations, Access to and Use of Buildings, sets out legal minimum requirements for works to buildings or new buildings. Whereas previous versions of the Regulations focused on the specific needs of people with disabilities, the current edition promotes an approach to inclusive design that reflects the needs of all people. It’s the absolute minimum that we should be adhering too and while many think it restricts design and imagination, I would have to disagree. As long as you’re meeting at least, the minimum standards, with a little imagination we can still go a long way.

Network Rail has a specific Built Environment Accessibility Panel, to ensure their building works, stations and amenities across the country are as inclusive as possible. The panel of experts, at least half of whom have disabilities, work as volunteers with Network Rail to assess and plan accessible places. The idea is a good one and one that I think our industry would benefit from. Everything requires a little quality control and when the end result is such an important one, I think it would be definitely worth the time and effort.

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

Modern Methods of Construction

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

UK Construction Week, the UK’s largest built environment event, takes place next month, with one of the themes being Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

MMC is transforming the way homes and commercial properties are built. A variety of new approaches are being adopted across the industry, including timber frames; whole wall panels, which can be supplied with windows, insulation and external cladding; and volumetric or modular construction, where pods or modules that could be anything from a bathroom to half a house are supplied ready-made. MMC is a much faster method than the traditional method of bricks and mortar and is essentially taking construction processes away from the building site. As modular homes are manufactured in a factory using MMC the accuracy, quality and performance of each build can be assured ensuring that standards are maintained, reducing the risk of mistakes and waste whilst also potentially providing safer working environments.

A recent report into the family homelessness crisis estimated that there could be more than 210,000 homeless children in England due to the lack of social housing.  The statistic is shocking and incredibly sad but maybe the shock is needed to prove why we need to increase house building to meet demand. Last year, the industry built just under 150,000 new homes, nowhere near enough to get all those children into a home. While it might not be possible to increase the number of new builds by enough, there are other solutions and MMC is one of them. It’s the ideal solution to quick, cost effective and good quality housing.

UK Construction Week will display the latest advancements in MMC and how they’re improving productivity and quality whilst lowering costs. A number of full-scale MMC-built structures will be on display at the show including a modular care annex for the healthcare sector, a SIPS panel residential building, a modular bathroom pod for the high-end hotel sector, and offsite solutions for the education sector.

We’ve been using modular off-site construction methods for a few years now in the North East and we are really reaping the benefits. Modular units were installed at the Gateshead Innovation Village and the regeneration of Smith’s Dock included a high proportion of modular homes manufactured offsite. We’re also ahead of the game in terms of digital MMC – NBS recently used augmented reality in their Future Building exhibition, allowing visitors to scan buildings on a wall and explore a 360-degree model on screen.

The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model said, we must ‘modernise or die’ and digital technology is at the top of its game, with 3D printing, apps, robots and drones to name a few, helping us carry out day to day tasks. In the past, we’ve had a reputation for being slow to adapt to the digital age, but over recent years, the smart building tech industry has grown significantly with more companies accepting technology.

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

Preparing for a No Deal Brexit

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East
Last week it was announced that the Queen had accepted the Prime Minister’s request to prorogue parliament, something which very rarely happens. For me, this just adds more uncertainty to the Brexit turmoil.
Proroguing parliament means that the current parliamentary ‘session’ ends and then a new ‘session’ begins after a short break. The Prime Minister argues that it gives his new government a chance to bring forward its own legislative agenda, but surely, it’s only going to add to the political chaos? Nobody knows what’s going on with Brexit, all we know is that regardless of the progue parliament, a ‘no deal’ Brexit is looking more likely every day.
A ‘no deal’ would mean that Britain would leave the group of nations with no trade agreements or customs and immigration operations in place at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and at Dover, the English end of the “chunnel” that runs between France and Britain – which just terrifies me for the future of the industry. Plenty of advice has been issued to help businesses prepare for such an eventuality, after all, there’s not a lot else we can do while we wait to see what happens…

  • The government has launched the new UK Conformity Assessed mark, which if approved, will replace the CE marking for certain goods. They’ve also published guidance relating to the Construction Products Regulation and how it will apply in the event of ‘no deal’.
  • The HMRC has also published advice for companies that trade with the EU, with details of important actions you need to take and changes to be aware of.
  • The European Commission has published guidance for firms on the treatment of industrial products in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This covers a range of issues including guidance for importers, the transfer of notified body certificates and accreditation, all of which are relevant to the industry.
  • The Federation of Master Builders recommends you include the following words in new written quotations and contracts: “If there are any significant changes in the price of the work or any new taxes arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union then we will tell you what those charges are when we know, and ask how you want us to go ahead.”
    If Britain does crash out of the EU and the predicted shortages happen, Parliament have nobody to blame but themselves and it’s going to be up to them to find solutions. While it’s all still up in the air, there’s not a lot we can do but prepare for the worst. My one piece of advice? Don’t let a ‘no deal’ take you by surprise.
    For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email

CIOB survey looking into mental health industry workers

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

Following the recent figures from the Office of National Statistics which found that men working in construction are four times more likely to take their own life than men on average, the Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) announced a new extensive survey looking into the mental health of industry workers.

Mental health in construction is often described as the ‘silent epidemic’ but when you look at the statistics, it’s not silent at all. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), anxiety and depression have overtaken musculoskeletal issues as the most reported health problem in the industry – that might sound scary, but the positive thing is that it’s being reported!

The survey will look into the mental health of employees and the levels of stress construction employees endure. The results will then be analysed to establish which are the primary pressures on workers at different levels. The information is then likely to be used to:

  • Develop recommendations for both the construction sector and policymakers to help reduce the pressures identified;
  • Draw the above recommendations, if legislative change is required, into a policy paper to discuss with parliamentarians;
  • Gather case study material to exemplify the primary issues raised in the survey and demonstrate the impact that these issues can have on individuals;
  • Shape a detailed report outlining the findings, sharing the case studies and summarising any policy recommendations.

We work in an industry that is stressful and comes with huge pressures. That’s not to say it’s any more stressful than other professions but with construction comes the macho culture, which sadly makes people afraid to ask for help. As well as wanting the best for our workers, our industry also carries a great deal of risk and if the job isn’t done properly, accidents will happen. We all need to keep working together to change the stigma relating to mental health and get our workers talking.

Here, at Constructing Excellence, we do lots to help improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the industry. Along with our Generation4Change, our committee of young professionals who are passionate about making a difference in the sector, we are currently carrying out a mental health survey. The results of which will be discussed at the North East Construction Summit, later in the year.

I’m just glad to see that the industry is taking mental health seriously, both regionally and nationally. While there’s no one solution to solve all of the issues surrounding mental health, the data that will be gathered from the CIOB survey will identify where work is needed and suggest solutions that will work.

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