Andy Batterham, Group Technical & Innovation Director with Ibstock Plc, looks at the vital role the construction sector will play in Britain’s economic recovery, and examines some of the steps the clay and concrete building products manufacturer is taking to support the industry.
Although the Coronavirus pandemic is still at the top of the news agenda and directly impacting each of our daily lives, there are positive signs that the UK construction industry is already adapting to the new normal.
Across the UK, merchants have reopened and the majority of building sites are doing the same, with construction professionals able to pick up their tools and head back to work. Indeed, the ability to head back to work is particularly welcome news in a sector that has a significant number of self-employed people, where very often downtime — planned or otherwise — means they don’t get paid.
Of course, health and safety remains paramount and, despite the easing of some restrictions, merchants, contractors and construction specialists must still adhere to stringent government regulations, including maintaining correct social distancing, wearing the correct PPE and observing hygiene measures.
Although nobody can say for sure how long this ‘new normal’ will be part of our lives, what we do know is it signals new ways of working — a challenge the construction industry is already rising to meet, as it helps lead the British economy towards recovery.
While the pandemic and subsequent lockdown undoubtedly had a seismic impact on construction business’s productivity and profitability, there are signs of renewed confidence across the industry.
Much of this has been triggered by the government’s recent announcement which put the construction sector firmly at the heart of their plan for the UK’s economic recovery.
The landmark pledge, delivered by the Prime Minister at the end of June, laid out plans to invest significantly in UK infrastructure and housebuilding projects, alongside introducing the most sweeping reforms to British planning regulations since the end of the Second World War.
And if the promised investment materialises, there will be significant opportunities to be taken by British construction businesses.
As Britain’s largest manufacturer of clay and concrete building products, Ibstock sits at the heart of the construction industry supply chain; a position we think will help us lead the UK’s economic fight back. That’s why we have invested in our processes to ensure merchants have access to all the stock they need to meet demand and supply their end-user customers.
In line with changes to government guidelines, we have launched a process of phased recommencement of activity across our national network of facilities. The strategically-led decision enables us to prioritise factories which are experiencing higher demand, ultimately helping us get crucial stock out to customers as projects re-start.
Across the past month, we have continued to scale-up activity throughout our facilities, working in partnership with the wider supply chain — including merchants and specifiers — to ensure we are in close collaboration with the construction industry as activity further increases.
Of course, the health and safety of our workforce and customers remains our utmost priority and, to that end, we have implemented strict new regimens to safeguard those working at our facilities. These include innovative temperature screening technology at the entrances of each site, alongside changes to work spaces and shift patterns to ensure social distancing can be properly observed at all times.
As we move towards the next stage of the national response to Covid-19, we remain well-placed to maintain an unbroken supply of goods to the UK construction industry. Thanks to previous investment in the reliability and capacity of our assets, we have maintained strong stock levels, in spite of the temporary suspension of work at our facilities.
And, as a British manufacturer, more than 95% of the raw materials used in our products are sourced from UK quarries. When coupled with the scope of our nationwide manufacturing network, we’re able to minimise average radial delivery mileage, shoring-up our responsiveness and, ultimately, enabling us to get Britain building again.
We have also recently launched our innovative online Product Selector, a virtual tool for merchants which allows builders, architects and specifiers to see each of our clay and building products in-situ on their project — before a single brick or block is laid.
Nobody knows for sure how long this new normal will be part of our lives, but I can think of no industry better placed to overcome the challenges — and grasp the opportunities — than construction.
With sites returning to life and projects once again taking shape across the country, it’s a sign that — despite a slowdown the like of which we have never seen before — recovery is underway.
To take a look at Ibstock’s online Product Selector, go to https://ibstockbrick.co.uk/brick-selector/