Comment – Here we go again…

Well here we are again; staring down the barrel of a second wave of the Coronavirus and on the very cusp of being forced into a second UK lockdown. The gradual easing of restrictions seemingly came too soon and COVID-19 cases are on the rise. And while we’re not yet at the stage of having to convert exhibition centres into makeshift hospitals, a second lockdown now feels almost inevitable.

From a personal standpoint, a repeat of the lockdown will be difficult. There are widespread reports of university students effectively trapped in halls, unable to attend lectures but equally unable to return home. The very notion of a family Christmas get-together appears to be fading and, depending where you live, visiting friends and loved ones has already reverted to being something we used to do.

From a demolition business perspective, however, a second lockdown could and should be very different to the first time around.

That first lockdown represented a steep learning curve for the entire demolition and construction industry. There was a brief period in which many questioned the sense and safety of going to work amidst a global pandemic. And even when demolition and construction men and women were identified as “key workers”, there were many – myself included – that had serious reservations about the wisdom of a seemingly hasty return to work. Those reservations were not helped by governmental rhetoric that seemed determined to place the needs of the economy above the wellbeing of individual people and their families.

As is so often the case, however, demolition and construction rose to the challenge. The sectors adapted quickly to accommodate new rules that seemed to be changing daily and even hourly. Those that could work from home did so; and, in many instances, companies saw an uptick in productivity as a result. Those that continued to work on site embraced social distancing and mask wearing with a speed and a willingness that is to their eternal credit and that sets an example to others.

Those rules have not gone away and – in my own personal experience – site workers are continuing to abide by the rules as part of what we now call the “new normal”. All of which means that, should a second lockdown become a reality, there will be few sectors better placed to soldier on and to keep the wheels of industry turning.

All of which is ironic, when you think about it. As an industry, we constantly bemoan the burden of legislation and the fact that our every move is in some way hindered or hampered by well-intentioned but ultimately restrictive regulations. Yet it is the industry’s ability to adapt to new rules and to roll with regulatory punches that allowed it to work through a first lockdown and that will allow it to work through a second.

Don’t get me wrong. A second lockdown will not be easy. In a new survey among UK construction companies, almost half said tat COVID-19 had a significant impact on their business. Almost as many said the pandemic’s effect had been minimal. A second lockdown will likely cut both ways just as much as the first.

However, we’re in a different and a better place this time around. In March and April of this year, the learning curve was near vertical. With the benefit of hindsight, it felt that the industry as a whole was making it up as it went along; reacting to each new government pronouncement or industry guidance as they landed.

But forewarned is forearmed. That learning curve is behind us, and we no longer need to make up the rules as we go along. Demolition has proved its adaptability and its resilience once. Should a second or even third wave hit, demolition has already figured out the lifeboat.