Uncertain times hold no fears for trussed rafter manufacturers

In the face of Brexit and other challenges this year, leading trussed rafter manufacturers and timber engineering firms learned to tackle fear like a Marine Commando, at a high energy AGM and conference for the Trussed Rafter Association (TRA) on 2 May.

More than 70 directors and business leaders within the sector met in Warrington this month to discuss some of the key issues creating uncertain times.

This included presentations on changing legislation regarding wood dust, changing Building Regulations and testing requirements on fire safety, and a continuing skills crisis across construction.

Nick Boulton, TRA Chief Executive said:

“That was an uplifting and thought-provoking conference. It has left trussed rafter and metal web joist manufacturers and installers much better informed of the big issues affecting our industry this year and next.”

“Prepare now to demonstrate professional competence in everything you do,” warned Barry Turner, director of technical policy at LABC. This was the main issue that all firms, big and small, should take seriously in the post-Grenfell era, he explained, while also making clear his concerns regarding the new ‘clarified’ Approved Document B on fire safety which is due for publication this month.

Similar warnings to prepare for new legislation came from occupational health expert Alan Ballard from ELAS. He broke the news of reduced softwood dust workplace exposure limits by the HSE coming into effect in 2023 – a health and safety change which is going to demand innovative solutions from the industry and its cutting machinery suppliers.

Mental health is continuing to be an issue within construction. “Construction has the highest suicide rate of any industry in the UK, America and Australia. This is a statistic that needs to change,” said Bill Hill, chief executive of the Lighthouse Construction Industry charity.

In light of this shocking statistic, The Building Mental Health campaign has been launched to support construction workers at all levels, with a free Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Other support tools are also available via their website.

How do you market your company and its career opportunities to Generation Z? That was the question posed by Liz Male, managing director of LMC, the TRA’s PR and marketing agency.

As the skills crisis escalates, attracting and retaining talent is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. Liz’s description of Generation Z and what engages them really resonated with the TRA members and highlighted the need for much more face-to-face communications and involvement with local schools and colleges in the battle for talent.

A big technical innovation also had its debut at the TRA’s conference. The Cullen Gable Restraint Bracket allows for a complete system to connect timber gables and masonry walls to the roof structure in order to resist wind loadings.

Scott McAndrew, R&D manager at ITW Construction Products explained how the system has now been accepted by the NHBC as meeting its technical requirements and how it delivers a robust structural fixing for timber gables. Site testing with housebuilders had gone well, he said, and the new connector will be adopted by the TRA in its forthcoming Gable Panel Guide.

Housebuilders in Ireland can also have more confidence in the fire safety of the homes they are building, thanks to a successful metal web joist fire testing programme carried out by the TRA. This was off the back of Irish Government’s decision to move to Eurocode test standards.

An update on this fire safety project was presented by Julian Marcroft of MiTek. TRA Ireland has already issued guidance to its members who produce metal web floor joists, to assist them with designing and constructing products which are compliant with fire safety in Part B of the Ireland building regulations.

Finally, back to the Commando reference. A tour of Afghanistan taught former Marine Commando, Ben Williams, a lot about fear and how to manage it. He brought this experience to the AGM but with a business spin on it.

Fear can stifle creativity within a company, he explained, before talking about how all businesses – including those in this industry facing an uncertain future – can build up resilience and overcome fear and anxiety to perform in the most gruelling of circumstances.

Ben is now a leadership coach and mentor working with premier league footballers as well as business leaders in VW, Travis Perkins, Keyline and Oneserve. His wisdom was the perfect end to the conference and left everyone feeling positive and reinvigorated for the year ahead.

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Can Your Business Afford To Ignore Mental Health In The Workplace?

  • Mental health issues now affect 1 in 6 UK workers.
  • 91 million workdays are lost in the UK due to symptoms of mental health problems.
  • The cost to employers is approx. £34.9 billion each year.
  • This equals £1,300 for every employee in the UK workforce.
  • The Department of Work and Pensions estimates that around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem will lose their jobs each year.

Looking at these statistics, there are two questions that every employer in this country should currently be asking themselves: How can I best support my employees to proactively minimise the impact of mental ill health on their work and life AND can my business really afford not to support my employees with wellbeing strategies? Accelerator Solutions, the award-winning training provider, believes companies simply cannot afford to ignore the increasingly significant issue of mental health. Not only from a productivity/profitability point of view, but best practice employers also have a duty to act as pioneers in helping to bridge the gap between how people think and how they act regarding mental health issues in the workplace.

In response to these concerns, Accelerator has translated its extensive experience in providing professional workplace training into the field of mental health. As a licensee for Mental Health for England, they are now able to offer an accredited two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certified training course for groups and individuals. This certified training is a mix of presentation, activity and group work based around the MHFA action plan. It is delivered by one of the leaders in this field, Nina Maan, who is a multi-award-winning Trainer and licensed Mental Health Instructor.

Henry Hopkins, Managing Director of Accelerator Solutions Ltd comments: “UK employers are gradually waking up to the fact that mental health problems in the workplace are a significant issue. They are now realising that they have an important role to play in supporting employees to make mental health first aid as equally important as physical first aid in the workplace.”

Henry continues: “Our aim here at Accelerator is to make Mental Health First Aid training accessible to companies of all sizes. By investing in these courses, employers will assist their staff with being able to identify, understand and help a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health crisis – this empathic action may even be able to help to prevent the crisis altogether. And of course, providing MHFA training will also have significant business benefits in terms of decreasing the impact of mental health issues on factors such as productivity and profitability”.

The next two-day MHFA ‘open course’ that Accelerator Solutions is offering takes place in London on the 25th and 26th June, led by Nina Maan. Places are booking fast – full details of the course content and how to book can be found by clicking here.

Accelerator also offers in-house MHFA training courses for larger groups from the same organisation and can be contacted at:

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How Britain Could Benefit from Building Upwards

How Britain Could Benefit from Building Upwards

  • It could boost the productivity of the UK’s construction sector by 50% – rooftop homes use the modular housing method, where workers only need to be semi-skilled. It’s, therefore, easier to train staff, the hiring process is easier, and it helps overcome the industry’s critical challenge of an ageing workforce.
  • Upwards extensions could save 1/5 of London’s Green Belt – Annually, 66,000 homes need to be built in London to meet the housing shortage demand. With 1/5 (22%) of London landing on the Green Belt, there are calls to release the land to build homes. However, upwards extensions could refrain this from happening.
  • Rooftop homes could reduce construction waste by up to 90% – The more traditional methods of construction create 400 million tons of waste each year. However, rooftop extensions use the ‘modular home’ method, which is more controlled, due to standard sizes and layouts. This method reduces waste by up to 90%.
  • Building upwards allows more homes to be built in dense cities – this allows people to live in city centres, rather than forcing them to move to commuting areas.

UK’s Biggest ‘Building Upwards’ Opportunities

Although ‘building upwards’ is a possible solution for the housing crisis, it’s important to consider which cities need it the most.

Insulation Express have, therefore, calculated how many residents share a sqm across the UK:

Surprisingly, Brighton and Hove has more people (10) packed into a residential sqm than London (7). In such a densely packed city, there are limitations on where to build on land so skyward extensions could be hugely beneficial for the housing shortage.

Read the full findings, including the challenges of building upwards:

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Connecting communities at WoodFest Reading

WoodFest is coming to Reading following the recent success in Newcastle and Sheffield. The event takes place throughout May, June and July with a focus on the social impact of housing, custom build, connecting communities, local timber and healthy building products.

The programme features a collection of seminars, exhibitions and tours celebrating the versatility and sustainability of building with wood, organised by the UK timber industry’s campaign, Wood for Good.

For the next two weeks until 7 June, the University of Reading School of Architecture invites visitors to explore its pop-up structure, the ‘The Urban Room’. This is a second year architecture student project designed for discussion and debate about architecture in the built environment.

The Urban Room will also host a series of Wednesday and Friday lunchtime ‘encounters’ with Reading-based artists exploring their own practice in response to the Urban Room. On 7 June, Reading University will explore ‘hybrid practices‘ through an arts-architecture lens, offering opportunities to move, discuss, think, experience and explore with guest artists and architects.

WoodFest Reading continues on 12 June with a tour of Vastern Timber, one of the largest British hardwood sawmills in the country. In addition to the tour, the day will include an insightful CPD talk delivered by managing director Tom Barnes, ‘Selecting Timber Cladding’, covering timber cladding choices, composites and modified wood. The day will wrap up with lunch and plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 3 July KISS House will host a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Making high quality housing attainable.’ Chaired by Christiane Lellig, campaign director for Wood for Good, the event will bring together a broad line-up of panellists from across the industry to discuss what quality housing is, why it is important and how to achieve it. Invited panellists include Jonny Anstead, TOWN, Sally Godber, WARM: Low Energy Buildings Practice, Ian Pritchett, Greencore Construction and Mike Jacob, KISS House.

The early evening will see a case study presentation of the RIBA East award-winning home, The Deerings. Delivered by the project team and the client, attendees will learn more about this striking and ambitious Passivhaus building, constructed from a super-insulated timber frame with recycled paper insulation.

Christiane Lellig said: “With a focus on housing and local communities, WoodFest Reading promises to offer a fantastic opportunity to bring all those involved with the built environment to explore what can be achieved when we work together.”

“Each event is a chance to learn and share about the use of timber in architecture, particularly around the social impact of housing and helping to connect local communities. It provides a platform to discover what’s happening in the region and to be inspired by timber design.”

Partners include: KISS; RIBA South and South East; TRADA; The University of Reading School of Architecture; Vastern Timber.

Book your place at any of the WoodFest Reading events here.

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HLM Completes Powell Hall Student Accommodation at The University of St Andrews

Leading design and architecture practice, HLM, recently completed the delivery of the new Powell Hall student accommodation within The University of St Andrews North Haugh Campus.

Named after the American professional golfer Renee Powell, the new hall provides 205 modern student bedrooms alongside high quality interactive social and common spaces. Inspired by the courtyard blocks of the existing hall, the three-sided u-shaped scheme creates a new central quad at the heart of the project.

The colour palette and finishes reflect and enhance the aesthetic of the building; elevations bounding the site incorporate light buff solid masonry and light grey polished concrete cladding panels. The social, study and common spaces throughout the building are located in prominent positions which, alongside zinc detailing help, activate and animate the façade. The angled window pods offer views out to the landscape northwards; a small nod to the A-listed Andrew Melville Hall to the west by James Stirling.

A double-height space to the west of the building provides social and common space close to the existing hall and a prominent active ground floor frontage to the new annexe. Students are drawn through these spaces upon entering the building along the route to the main vertical circulation cores as a means of encouraging interaction and engagement between students.

Commenting on the development, HLM Associate Ross Barrett said: “Powell Hall is designed to have a wide array of common spaces to foster communication and reflect the University’s mission of interdisciplinary collaboration. These interactions are key in connecting students, and in turn, creating a sense of community in each hall, enhancing the student experience and fostering academic and personal growth.”

The development also incorporates newly formed parking, drop-off areas and an entrance plaza to create a high-quality arrival space.

The Powell Hall development is part of the largest single expansion of student bedrooms in St Andrews for over a decade. HLM worked closely with Campus Living Villages and The University of St Andrews to design, develop and deliver over 400 new bedrooms in total across two new buildings within two years of being appointed.

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How to identify energy efficient bi-fold doors

Bi-fold doors are increasing in popularity, with the market expected to grow by 7% year on year. Their aesthetically pleasing modern design lightens up a room, creating an enviable inside and outside space. The installation of bi-folds also has the power to increase a property’s value by as much as 10% – it’s no surprise they’re so sought after! While bi-fold doors are a sleek home addition, with the average large format doors filling an aperture of over 3.5m wider and 2.1m high, product quality and air tightness are incredibly important. It is recommended to review the doors energy efficiency before purchasing. Less energy efficient models that let in a draught will let heat out of a property and won’t be as protective of the interior.

Here’s what you should look out for in order to identify an energy efficient bi-fold door system:

  1. U-values

The U-value measures how effective a material is as an insulator. As a rule, the lower the U-value, the more efficient the material and therefore, the lower the annual energy bill will be. With bi-folding doors you generally want a value of 1.4 or less to ensure that you have optimal thermal performance. There are a variety of energy efficient bi-folding doors, with low U-values, such as bi folding doors from Quickslide.

  • Weather Testing

A suitable weather resistant bi-folding door should have been rigorously tested to ensure they are watertight and remain protected against an array of weather conditions. Bi-fold doors are subject to a weathertightness test, more formally known as a BS6375 Part 1. This assesses the air permeability (varying levels of air pressure are applied to the material, testing the amount of air leakage), water tightness (water is sprayed at varying pressures to see at what point it starts to penetrate) and wind resistance (varying levels of wind pressure are applied to see what the maximum resistance levels are). When purchasing a bi-folding door, make sure to check the exact model has undertaken a weathertightness test. This will offer homeowners peace of mind that the doors will keep their home fully insulated from all weather conditions.

  • CE Marking

CE Marking is a legal requirement for products sold in the European Economic Area. It is mandatory for all UK manufactured bi-folding doors to be CE marked. For a product to receive this accreditation, the manufacturer must present evidence under a series of categories, including thermal efficiency and weathertightness. Therefore, you can rest assure that any door you are purchasing with this marking, will be compliant with required performance characteristics, in line with UK requirements, such as weathertightness and thermal.

  • Polymide Thermal Barrier

Aluminium is a natural conductor, so to improve the insulation of the door frame, they can be upgraded to include polymide thermal barrier technology. Aluminium bi-folding doors that have been upgraded to this technology over old resin thermal barrier give at least a 30% improvement to thermal efficiency. The advanced profile technology creates a thermal transmittance barrier between the cold outside and the warm inside. This works to thermally secure the home, keeping it warm in the winter months, and reducing the energy bills.

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Considerate Constructors Scheme expands to offer registration to professional services

Professional service organisations can now demonstrate their considerate credentials

20 May 2019: The Considerate Constructors Scheme – the organisation established to improve the image of construction – has expanded to offer professional service organisations the opportunity to register with the Scheme.

Eligible organisations providing professional services to the construction industry, such as architects, engineering consultancies, surveyors, accountants and lawyers, are now able to join the 7,000 plus construction sites, companies, suppliers and clients of construction projects who register with the Scheme each year.

Professional services account for around 11% (£186 billion) of the UK’s Gross Value Added and employ around 13% (4.6 million) of the UK’s population.*

This exciting development comes at the request of those already registered with the Scheme to ensure their entire supply chain is part of the Scheme, as well as an increasing number of professional service organisations wishing to be part of the Scheme to help improve their standards in considerate construction.

Edward Hardy, Chief Executive of the Considerate Constructors Scheme said: “We are delighted to welcome eligible professional service organisations to the Scheme. This is a significant development for our entire construction industry, as professional services form an integral part of the industry’s supply chain.

“The impact such organisations can have in becoming part of the Considerate Constructors Scheme to improve their standards will no doubt have a significant influence on improving the overall image of our industry.”

Click here to find out more and to apply to become a Scheme Registered Professional.

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Industry reactive: the steel industry could make 24,000 workers redundant

Following the news that the steel industry in the UK needs to find a £30m cash injection or it’s likely to face administration, potentially affecting 24,000 jobs through Scunthorpe steelworks and its supply chain, Dilusha Hettiralalage, Consumer Savings Expert at, commented:

“The issues with the steel industry have been well documented since 2017 and in all honesty it’s done well to continue on for as long as it has. It’s a significant part of UK heritage and industrialisation, and it’s hard to imagine a UK without British Steel, but right now we need to be thinking about the 24,000 workers who could be left jobless if the second-largest steel producer in the UK is to close its doors.

“Our hearts are with those right now in limbo, unsure of what is happening and if they will have a job by the end of the week. Whether they’re single, married, have children or don’t, it’s never ideal to lose your job – especially ahead of the summer holidays, a notoriously expensive time of the year. One must also appreciate the fact that many steel workers have been operating in the industry since leaving school as teenagers, and have built up a very specific and niche set of skills that aren’t transferable to many other job roles if they are made redundant.

“£45m has already been injected into British Steel from shareholder Greybull Capital, so whilst things are looking positive, will this be the last time that the industry faces this issue and jobs are put on the line? It’s doubtful. We wouldn’t recommend everyone jumps ship if the company is able to be saved this week, but maybe it’s time for workers to consider branching out and learning a new trade or transferable skills so that they are as employable as possible, should they find themselves without a job.”

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Best Regions for Construction Startups

1. North East

  • Regionally, the North East has the smallest percentage of construction companies (15%).
  • Just 6% of the region are employed in this sector – which is 2% lower than the national average.
  • But despite the North East’s construction industry being much smaller than other regions, it shares 12% of the area’s turnover across all industries.
  • From a wider outlook, it also contributes 3% to the British construction turnover – showing the area it has plenty of room to grow, too.

2. Scotland

  • Construction only accounts for 16% of the area’s turnover across all industries – which is 2% lower than the UK average.
  • More construction workers are also needed to address Scotland’s housing shortage, which means there is little competition.
  • Official figures from the Scottish government show that the economy grew by 1.3% in 2018, which proves that there is profit potential.

Interested in the full findings?

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London office work shifts towards major refurb projects

The construction of new offices in central London is at its highest level in three years with 37 schemes breaking ground in the last six months.

According to the latest Deloitte crane survey the office sector is remaining resilient despite Brexit uncertainty with 3.5m sq ft started over the period, 38% up on the previous survey last autumn.

Overall new build figures were significantly boosted by four new starts at King’s Cross – including Facebook’s new HQ – representing nearly 1m sq ft of all new starts.

The biggest sector of the London market, the Square Mile, has started to see a pronounced shift towards large-scale office refurbishment. Over this period developers began work on eight refurbishments, which will deliver 800,000 sq ft of Grade A space.

The survey also highlighted some concern that the longer term forecast office pipeline of 30m sq ft, is nearly a quarter down over the last two years.

The latest biannual survey recorded 13.2m sq ft of office space now under construction – a 12% increase on the previous survey.

Mike Cracknell, director at Deloitte Real Estate, said: “London’s office market remains resilient in the face of uncertainty as we witness an encouraging increase in new construction starts. This is testament to developers’ continued confidence in London’s office leasing market long-term.”

He added that the uptick in construction activity in the run-up to the originally scheduled EU departure date of March 2019 was remarkable, given the magnitude of political and economic uncertainty.

He said that it demonstrated that developers had not delayed their construction plans and had confidence in the London leasing market over the long term.

The City of London continued to dominate construction activity with 6.7m sq ft across 33 schemes representing half of total volume under construction across the capital.

Among the top concerns for landlords and developers, Brexit uncertainty was cited by around a quarter. But longer term issues of ‘lack of development sites’ (32%) and ‘construction costs’ (32%), were the top two challenges for landlords.

Among key package contractors, most firms expected to see a little increase in work over the next 12 months, although the strength of positive sentiment has waned with the exception of external works firms.

The results around price sentiment in the Q1 2019 survey suggest an average 3% rise in prices over the next 12 months – similar to the figure reported in the Q3 2018 survey.

The exception was in demolition where significant price increases are being forecast.

Payment periods are on the increase from main contractors, suggesting harder times ahead. Payments within 30 days fell from over 40% to less than 30% of the total.

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