July 25, 2021

How construction has been coping with one year of the pandemic

With the roadmap to recovery having now been announced and with light hopefully at the end of the tunnel, we’ve been catching up with a two construction companies to see what measures they’ve introduced over the past 12 months in response to the pandemic.

Chris Wareing, Director, Wareing Buildings

“We have been lucky. When lockdown hit 12 months ago none of us knew how it would play out, but I think all of us in construction would agree that we are among the more fortunate.

“At Wareing Buildings, we had a full order book at the beginning of 2020. We had started the year well. Of course, when we downed tools a lot of work was pushed back. Those weeks away from work were difficult, worrying, but ultimately the period was relatively short lived.

“When construction was called back to work, I felt a weight of responsibility to look after the team. It’s safe to say there was a steep learning curve in HR as we strove to follow the rules to the letter and protect the welfare of staff.

“Although it initially seemed daunting, once we were into the swing of things social distancing – both on site and in the office – was relatively straightforward. We’re lucky to work in an industry so well suited to distancing. Within a few weeks we had our full team back at play, and busy.

“A lot of our customers have benefitted from low interest rates, and we have refurbished a number of premises for companies preparing for the return to work. We also had a real surge in demand from our customers in agriculture. They were working full pelt to keep the country fed, and we were an integral part in helping household name food manufacturers to adapt, to grow and to supply in line with demand.

“We manufacture our own steel on site and had around three months’ reserves when lockdown hit, but sourcing other materials became challenging. We had to work with both customers and suppliers to find compromises that worked for everyone. There was a real sense of pulling together, and I do believe that many of our partnerships have thrived as we all worked to overcome hurdles.

“Looking forward, I think reputation will matter more than ever. COVID has made us all more risk averse, and nobody wants to gamble with unknown suppliers. We are grateful that we have strong relationships with loyal customers, who are generous enough to recommend us.

“We see steel framed buildings playing a stronger role in commercial and industrial sectors from now on. Online delivery has dominated retail, and to ensure brands can meet consumer demand, businesses are developing satellite warehouses across the country to get products to the end user faster than ever before. Additionally, more corporate organisations are considering the benefits of building pop-up, steel framed offices on industrial parks, rather than renovate dilapidated buildings or empty units on high streets which are teamed with higher overheads.

“Brexit will also play a part, but in actuality, over the last five to ten years we had already seen a rise in manufacturing returning to Britain. Demand for quality products with clear supply chains will only increase as a result of the challenges of the last 12 months.

“Reflecting on the last year, it is hard to feel anything but fortunate. The construction industry is buoyant. Our order book has remained full. We can work, we have worked. We feel as safe as is possible. We are painfully aware that others have not been so lucky, and our success is bittersweet.”

Paul McNeill, Director, Ball & Berry

“For those of us in construction, reflecting on the last 12 months shines a light on how fortunate we have been. We have had plenty of challenges to overcome, we’ve had to adapt and find new ways to do things, but we’ve thrived.

“In the early weeks of the pandemic we furloughed team members and had to make difficult decisions, but we did so with the hope that the market would return to its previous levels of buoyancy, if not stronger. We still hoped to achieve some element of growth.

“We have found that our optimism was not misplaced. A range of Government incentives which enabled the construction industry to continue operations, combined with consumers unlocking additional capital through restrictions on travel and socialising, has left us in the fortunate position of being busier now than we were twelve months ago. The construction industry is buoyant.

“Avoiding the double dip recession has given us reason for continued hopefulness. The economic downturn we’ve seen, though significant, has been unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Our clients are still investing into construction across almost all sectors. From largescale projects in education, healthcare, and industry, to domestic projects in which homeowners are extending and adapting their homes to suit their new circumstances, there is a lot of confidence out there.

“Retail has slowed but by no means stopped, and development in office space is picking up as the country prepares to return to more typical ways of working. We anticipate an initial move away from the co-working model, and a carving up of office space to allow for a temporary halt in the use of shared facilities.

“Personally, I’m eager to return to work at the office. For some, working from home has been a huge upside to the pandemic. For others, it’s been very challenging. I think the new normal will be a middle ground, with flexible working becoming common place, and employees generally splitting their time between the home and the office.

“It’s important to us at Ball & Berry that our young team members are able to learn from and call upon more senior members of the team, and for that reason we hope to able to open our offices as soon as possible. There are some stark benefits to working alongside your team members that, despite our best efforts, are impossible to replicate in remote working conditions. We have many talented young people in our ranks who are committed to professional development, and several more experienced staff with a wealth of knowledge to share.

“Like many businesses, we have taken the opportunity to refurbish our offices while they have been closed. With a new working environment, an energetic and enthusiast team, and new projects landing in double figures every day, and we are looking ahead with positivity, fully prepared for a busy 2021.”