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Let Loose in Lockdown

Let Loose in Lockdown

It’s been a year since the UK went into its first national lockdown.  It’s been a year of changes that have affected all aspects of our lives.  We’ve gained and lost in so many ways, and in the process, hopefully learnt how to be better resilient.

It’s easy to reflect on the negatives but so much more important for us to recognise the positives.  For NBH, it’s been a year of change that now leads us to our 10th birthday year.

Last year we were one of the fortunate businesses that could continue operating through lockdown, albeit not at 100% capacity.  As such, we were able to focus on some projects that had been on the backburner.  One of these projects was the conversion of our own garage into a guest annexe/office. With planning permission already in place, we were able to progress with the build straightaway, and since it was a project for ourselves, I enjoyed the free reign I had with the design.

We were granted planning permission to create a two-storey structure allowing us to create office space upstairs with living space for visiting family downstairs. The exterior superstructure is traditional cavity skin blockwork with an off-white render and grey cladding external finish.  The scaffolding was provided by the newly established and well-respected Stobbs Scaffolding based in Truro.

I wanted the interior space to reflect our business as well as my Northern industrial roots. We chose exposed brickwork interior walls using reclaimed imperial bricks from Wigan, a stone’s throw away from my home town of Bolton (well, 12 miles apart).  These were supplied by Cawarden Brick & Tile Company based in Staffordshire.

To continue the industrial theme, we opted for exposed electrical conduit and light fittings, much to the grimace of our electrician – thankfully a friend too!  Anthracite windows finished with oak sleeper sills, and an aluminium bi-fold door complemented this further.  External windows and doors were supplied by Camel Glass & Joinery Ltd in Wadebridge.  The look was complete with a black contemporary log burner from Allen Valley – The Fire Place Ltd based in St Teath.

The exposed internal brickwork extends to parts of the first floor for continuity however, the main objective was to keep this area light and conducive for working. Velux windows and a large South-East facing window that expands the width and height of the room providing the natural light we were looking for.  And what could be more authentic than a 2m office desk made from scaffold boards and poles!

The essential bathroom and kitchenette were installed to ensure the annexe is self-contained and the project was complete.

I obviously relished selecting the interior furniture and fittings and strangely found a new love for the colour orange.  The only thing that’s left to do is to decide a name!

We love the end result and appreciate what everyone involved in this project has helped us to achieve, especially during uncertain times.  We definitely had some challenges but to our friends and family, to our suppliers and contractors who have now become closer friends – we thank you all!

Our Project Peeps and Suppliers:

Allen Clark, Steve Griffiths, Jack Moorhouse Hoyle, Mark Hann, Mitchell Hann, Steven Reynolds, Mark Sloggett, Harry Vosper

KA Groundworks SW, Jabez Concrete, Stroma Building Control, Merchant Carpentry, Syd Merchant, Stobbs Scaffolding, Pasquill Roof Trusses, West Country Slate Supplies, F30 Building Supplies, Cornish Fixings, Glebe Quarry Ltd, Camel Glass & Joinery Ltd, Cawarden Brick & Tile Company, Allen Valley – The Fire Place Limited,

Special thanks to Structural Services for working with, and adding to our ideas and Debbie Murrell for her photographs that have captured everything so beautifully!

We’ve already started on our next project, but more of that to come later ….

Award Winning New Kids on the Block

Award Winning New Kids on the Block

This is my last blog for 2015 and I’m really pleased that we end the year on a high.

Last Friday we glammed up for Taylor Wimpey (TW) Exeter’s Christmas Party at Woodbury Park Hotel. We anticipated a good evening, winding down for the Christmas break and catching up with some of our TW colleagues we’ve worked with over the past eight months.

The venue looked amazing, the atmosphere was great and the food was gorgeous. However what made the night perfect was watching Neil accept the award for Subcontractor/Supplier of the Year for NBH.

After the meal and before the real partying got started, Taylor Wimpey Exeter’s managing director, Colin Palmer, recognised some of the team’s stars of the year. The final award recognised the team’s subcontractors and suppliers too.

We began working with TW in April this year after successfully tendering for the brickwork contract for Parc Hendrawna in Perranporth. TW were actively looking for new subcontractors and we were (quite rightly) put through a robust selection process before being awarded the contract. Neil has worked hard with his team to deliver the promises we initially made. The award cements all the great feedback we have received over the past 8 months from site to director level.

The first thing we did was to contact our team and let them know the great news. To be honest, part of our excitement was sharing the news with them too. It’s a fantastic achievement for us all. The site team have done a brilliant job; they have consistently delivered on quality and production and deserve this recognition too.

Needless to say we spent the rest of the evening celebrating, visiting the obligatory photo booth, dancing and drinking more than what we had planned too. Neil took the award to site this week to show the team before we put it on display in the office.

Both Neil and I are proud of our team and NBH’s achievements this year and are looking forward to 2016.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Picture: L-R: Natalie Hann and TW’s Commercial Trainee Brooke Bromell who worked with us through the selection process.

Cheating Centres, Tricks and Scaremongering Myths

Cheating Centres, Tricks and Scaremongering Myths

I thought that last week’s headline news of exposed cheating at construction site safety test centres would be an appropriate topic to blog about on Hallows eve.   As disappointing as it was to read, I do think the media enjoyed the scaremongering it created; and perhaps tricked the general public’s perception of how the industry’s skills scheme really works.

The ‘widespread’ cheating mainly surrounds the heath, safety and environment test. The test consists of 50 multiple-choice questions that candidates must complete in 45 minutes using a computer. You can undertake this test at any one of the 544 test centres across the UK authorised by the Construction Industry Training Body (CITB) for a typical cost of £19.50.

You must pass the test to be able to apply for a CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) card. CSCS is the leading skills certification scheme within the UK construction industry.

The card verifies your identity and shows employers that you have the required training, qualifications and experience for the type of work you carry out on a construction site.  Most major contractors and homebuilders require workers on their sites to hold a valid CSCS card. The card is typically valid for five years after which it can be renewed.

However there are some types of cards that are only valid for three or four years where applicants must be working towards a recognised industry qualification e.g. apprentice and trainee cards. These cards cannot be renewed once they have expired.

What the recent new reports didn’t mention, however, is that alongside your application for your CSCS card, you have to provide proof of the qualifications you have gained in line with the type/level of card you are applying for. For some cards, a higher level test needs to be sat e.g. the Manager’s card requires that applicants sit the Manager and Professionals Health, safety and Environmental test.

The type of cheating reported in last week’s press is more likely to involve applications for the entry levels cards such as the labourer card where a basic heath and safety awareness is the only requirement. This is the easiest route to gain access to construction sites, although stricter requirements have been put in place following changes introduced last year.

Last year, the Construction Industry Training Board doubled its spend on fraud investigations shutting down five online test centres and investigating eight others. As key industry awarding organisations focus resources on combating fraud, we, as employers, have a role to play too as complacency can also be a means to cheating the system.

CSCS cards should be checked before allowing any new construction workers on site. CSCS keeps a database of people working in construction and an online portal on the CITB website allows you to easily check whether a worker’s card is genuine and valid. The process takes minutes to complete. Regular reviews of existing workers’ information should also take place to prompt when renewals are due.

It is also worth noting that there is an expectation from insurance providers (stipulated in policies) and principal contractors (stipulated in contracts) that companies are ensuring their employees and/or subcontractors hold relevant and valid CSCS cards.

Having these checks in place will not only ensure you have the experience and skills you need but also that your team has an understanding and awareness of health and safety.

This week the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released their annual health and safety statistics. They reported 35 fatalities in the construction industry in 2014/15 and over 65,000 workplace injuries. The statistics highlight the need for better understanding and application of good health and safety practice. Clamping down on fraud will help someway towards this but we all have an ongoing responsibility.

Happy Halloween!

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The Apprentice

The Apprentice

I’m not talking about the hit show on BBC2 fronted by business entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar. I’m talking about our apprentice. He may not have been scrutinised in the boardroom by the business guru himself, his accomplishments were not watched by over six million people for over twelve weeks, but he shone as the right candidate for us from the start.

Britain’s construction industry is facing its biggest skills shortage for a generation with companies blaming the recent prolonged recession for a lack of apprentices.

With currently over 2.1 million jobs, the industry is finally getting back on its feet, however recovery is being slowed down by companies struggling to recruit skilled bricklayers, carpenters/joiners and site managers to deliver their projects. One in three of the largest construction companies in London are turning down bidding opportunities due to this shortage of skilled labour.

In 2013 just 7,280 apprentices completed their training across all the trades, however in reality the sector needed 35,000 new entrants just to stand still.

The Government’s National Infrastructure Plan for Skills reveals demand for over 250,000 construction workers and over 150,000 engineering construction workers by 2020. This is alongside the need to retrain and up skill the existing workforce over the next decade too.

As a result, the Government are committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships in England with plans to introduce a new apprenticeship levy in April 2017. This levy aims to encourage larger companies to significantly investment in training for their workforce. At the moment two-thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by micro companies similar to NBH.

We chose to take Jack on as our apprentice because as we grow, we are feeling the skills shortage too and good bricklayers are hard to find. We have a great team working for us at the moment and we want to build on this (no pun intended). When recruiting skilled workers is a challenge, another option is to ‘grow your own’. We hope Jack is the first of many more to follow.

From Jack’s perspective, he chose a bricklaying apprenticeship because he wanted to develop a trade. I hope he chose to do this with NBH because he saw our commitment to training.

And whilst Jack is working towards his City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Bricklaying, I’m also busy studying for my HNC in Construction and the Build Environment, after all, I don’t want to be fired by Sir Alan either!


“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’         Henry Ford


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