Comment – The year of giving up

Most will look back at 2020 as the year of the Coronavirus. Some will remember it as the year of giving up.

Last weekend I was perusing my LinkedIn feed while I was socially distancing in a queue at my local supermarket when I came across a post from an Australian demolition man that had been a guest on the DemolitionNews LiveStream show just a few months ago. He had taken to LinkedIn to announce the fact that he was walking away from the demolition business.

This was not a retirement – The man in question is young, dynamic and has plenty of good years ahead of him. But the stresses and the strains of working in demolition – which had previously caused him to voice his personal mental health struggles – had finally taken its toll. And while the COVID-19 pandemic and localised lockdowns across Australia had been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, there was no question that demolition itself had long since fractured the poor humped creature’s spine.

I switched on my computer this morning to be greeted with the news that house builder Redrow was quitting the London market because “making acceptable returns in London has become increasingly more difficult in recent years.”

These two stories are entirely unrelated. One involves a demolition company; the other a house-builder. One story comes from Australia; the other from the UK. One is a decision based upon personal feelings; the other follows a strategic review and is apparently entirely driven by economic forces.

Yet despite their many differences, these two stories speak to a single solution to a singular problem. The fact that one company has chosen to walk away from a specific geographic market and one man has chosen to step away from a specific industry points to a wider issue that has been building and accumulating for a number of years. And the chances are that these two stories will not be unique.

According to the Redrow statement announcing its abdication from the London house-building sector: “There remains downward pressure on the London market created by weak overseas demand, shifting social trends, which suggest many buyers are now looking to live and work outside the capital; and a convoluted two-tier planning system that has not responded to any of these changes.”

Against that background, Redrow’s decision should come as no great surprise. Nonetheless, that decision is bold. According to market intelligence provider The Builders’ Conference, the London house-building sector was valued at around £9.0 billion in the past 12 months; and one of the UK’s leading house-builders has elected to walk away from a slice of that substantial pie rather than continue to be embroiled in the capital’s bun-fight.

Meanwhile in Australia, a man has decided that the stress, struggles and sleepless nights that accompany the running of a demolition company are simply too high a price to pay for the diminishing rewards.

His decision is every bit as bold as that taken by Redrow here in the UK. And, if anything, it is a decision that is easier to explain and easier to understand.

Running a business is always a balancing act in which we each weigh the trials and tribulations against the potential returns. All the time the rewards outweigh the problems, a business is worth pursuing. And if those rewards are sufficiently large, they can often erase all thoughts of the challenges entirely. We can all take a degree of grief and hassle if we’re being sufficiently well paid to do so.

The problem arises when that balance is reversed; when the risks outweigh the rewards; when a work/life balance becomes a work/life imbalance.

The demolition industry, along with large swathes of the construction sector, has been participating in a race to the bottom for a number of years now; a zero-sum game with significantly more losers than winners.

As an industry, demolition invests billions each year in its people and their training, in legislation compliance, in technology and in the latest equipment. And then, when the time comes to bid for work, all of that considerable investment is set to one side while we each try to figure out the lowest possible price we’re willing to accept. Of course, the pressure for that lowest price bid comes from above; from clients and main contractors looking to swell their profit margins by diminishing ours. But for far too long, we have been willing victims. We have been the architects of our own downfall; caught in a spiral of doing ever more for ever less. We have whittled away our own rewards whilst accepting greater risks. And that, in turn, has set in motion a domino effect of wider issues.

We are working for ever-thinning margins and accepting longer and longer credit terms from those that owe us money. We have a legal system in which the stupidity or loss of concentration of a site worker might result in an accident that could send the company owner or directors (or both) to jail. As an industry, we are burdened with bureaucracy and hampered by legislation. We have embraced a complex and convoluted system in which we now require dedicated individuals and even whole departments to keep on top of training matrices. We have stood idly by while the odds have been stacked against us to the point that stress and sleepless nights are now as much a part of the demolition trade as a hard hat.

Stefan Sciessere’s decision to quit the industry he has loved since he was a child and about which he remains passionate to this day is, therefore, as understandable as it is sad. It is hard enough to attract dynamic young people into this industry of ours without then losing some of them because we have collectively allowed the pendulum to swing away from reward and heavily towards risk.

No-one joins the demolition industry because it’s easy. It isn’t. But, by the same token, no-one joins the industry to ruin their own lives either.

I sincerely hope that Stefan’s departure from the industry is temporary and that he will return with fresh ideas and a fresh perspective. I hope he will take the time away to focus on what is truly important – Himself, his family, and his friends and colleagues. But more than anything, I hope he returns to find an industry that has redressed the risk/reward balance; that has finally recognised its own value; and that has at long last placed its own needs above those of clients, contractors and other stakeholders that have dragged us down and held us there for far too long.

Sikh and destroy…

Demolition firm helps build community relations at Sikh temple.

Leaders of a Sikh temple have thanked a demolition firm for coming to the rescue and providing “muscle power” to help ensure their building project went ahead without a hitch.

The Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Church Street, Lenton, Nottingham, is two months into a six-month renovation that involves an extension to its langar hall, which is a community kitchen. The 100 sq m rear courtyard extension will also provide extra space for the temple’s 200 members to do activities like Punjabi and Yoga classes.

Members of the temple were left in a quandary when four heavy steel beams required for the work were left at the front of the building, but needed to be shifted to the back. At six metres long and half a metre wide – with one weighing half a ton – moving the structures 40 metres to the rear was not going to be an easy feat.

But after Gurdwara president Gurmeet Singh mentioned the problem to his friend of 30 years, Melvyn Cross Junior, a joint owner at Hucknall-based Total Reclaims Demolition, Melvyn got his staff involved.

Narinder Michael Singh, a member of the temple’s project management team, which also includes Sinder Singh and Marshall Singh, said: “We looked at all the options, including getting a crane, but it wasn’t possible down the alleyway. The actual help that Melvyn gave was absolutely amazing. One morning at 7.30am, six vans pulled up and 18 of his employees came and lifted these very heavy steel structures and rolled them to the back, using a method like the Egyptians used, with steel rollers. They also used Genie machines, which are like fork lift truck, to move the beams once at the back of the building. It was a major operation and it saved us thousands of pounds as we would have had to move the telegraph poles and close the road for the crane. It’s absolutely fantastic that a local company was able to help us like this, and free of charge. Amazingly, they did the whole operation within an hour. Total Reclaims Demolition did us a massive favour. We are very grateful for their support and we wish them all the best for the future in these difficult times.”

The temple was first established in the building in 1975 and prior to that it was a National School built in 1841 and designed by Derby architect Henry Isaac Stevens.

The temple, which provides a free kitchen for the homeless every Thursday, previously had a major refurbishment 10 years ago, aided by English Heritage, in which some double hammer beams – which are of significant architectural importance – were uncovered.

Melvyn Cross Junior, of Total Reclaims Demolition said: “When I heard about the plight of the members of the temple from my friend Gurmeet, I couldn’t just walk away. We always try our best to help the local community, and as this was such a worthy cause that supports local people with food and activities, it was only right that our staff should get involved. It was a pleasure to be able to offer help and ensure the work went ahead.”

Demolition Technology 2020 – Official Trailer

On 24 September 2020, the eyes of the demolition world will turn to the future as the Demolition Technology 2020 throws a spotlight onto the existing and emerging technologies that are shaping demolition today and intro the future.

This exclusive trailer is just a taste of what this massive event has in store.

Rapid response averts Anglian fire…

Blaze on Stowmarket site thought to be arson.

Over the past 24 hours, we have received a number of copies of a photo showing a fire on a demolition site. Although the photo itself is less than clear, we have discovered that the fire involved a site operated by Anglian Demolition.

DemolitionNews contacted company managing director Lee Storer who takes up the story:

“…It was one of our sites at Stowmarket School. We had left site for the day at around 4.50pm and received a call from the Main Contractor at 5.15pm saying their was reports of smoke coming from an area away from the building and our equipment.

Our Project Manager returned to site at 5.30pm and met the Fire Service. It appeared that some stockpiled debris was alight – no works had been undertaken in the area and no hot works on any other part of the site. The fire was quickly extinguished – our excavator was used to aid the fire service by spreading it out to ensure it was extinguished and thoroughly soaked.

The fire officer has said that the cause was unknown but likely to be arson.

Interestingly, we had a site visit the day before by the HSE to inspect the licensed asbestos removal works, who gave us and the main contractor praise for how the site was generally run and particularly how effective the COVID procedures were.

We are obviously undertaking a thorough investigation, which includes downloading data from the cameras in our diggers.

Thankfully no one was injured and no property damaged and work was back to normal first thing this morning…”

The future is two weeks away…

In 14 days, the eyes of the demolition world will turn to tomorrow.

On the evening of 24 September, we will raise the curtain on an ambitious new event that has been months in the making; an event that will showcase systems and solutions that might yet take years to impact the demolition world. But impact it they will.

Demolition Technology 2020 has been devised to showcase the existing and emerging technologies that is shaping the field of demolition. We don’t want to give away too much but the content will include subjects ranging from virtual and augmented reality; remote controls and autonomous equipment; wearable technology; telematics and remote monitoring; and a healthy dose of futuristic demolition equipment for good measure.

Demonstrating that we can walk the technology walk as much as we talk it, the show will be broadcast simultaneously across a variety of online platforms. It will, of course, appear live on for those that prefer to just watch. But if you want to comment, ask questions and just generally interact, then we strongly recommend that you tune in via DemolitionNews’ Facebook page or YouTube channel.

We will, of course, be providing further updates as the big day arrives. But for now, please put the date and time in your diary. Demolition Technology 2020 takes place at 6pm (UK time) on 24 September.

We look forward to bringing you the future.

Comment – Start the Conversation

On World Suicide Prevention Day 2020, can we all take a moment for a chat?

Do you ever look at the TV news and ask yourself “why are we still talking about this?” Why are we still talking about hunger and poverty in Third World countries? Why are we still talking about racial and gender inequality? Why are we still talking about wars and conflicts? And why are we still talking about male suicide?

We live in a modern world of riches and resources that would have been unimaginable 10 or 20 years ago. We have more technology in our pockets than was used to place a man on the moon. That technology allows us to communicate across borders in real-time. Billionaires have replaced millionaires as an aspirational target. And yet, here we are in 2020 still talking about poverty 35 years after the Live Aid concert beamed the reality of Third World hunger into our homes. Still talking about racial inequality 57 years after Dr Martin Luther King shared with the world his dream that “one day, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Still talking about war 102 years after the cessation of the “war to end all wars”.

The fact that we’re still talking about poverty, inequality and conflict proves that each of these requires a complex solution; a solution that will require each of us to let go of long-ingrained perceptions and prejudices; and to embrace the notion that we are each our brothers’ keeper with an unspoken responsibility to help our fellow man (and woman).

The irony is that we’re still talking about male suicide when talking is, in fact, the solution this insidious and pernicious problem requires.

According to construction industry charity Mates in Mind, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK in 2018 alone. “We know from data previously reported by the ONS (2018) that the risk of suicide is elevated in some sectors of the economy such as construction, which is three times the national average for site workers,” says Mates in Mind Managing Director, James Rudoni. “Research suggests that open and honest communication about mental ill-health supports steps towards suicide prevention. These important conversations have the power to increase awareness and understanding, remind people they are not alone and help break the stigma which can be a barrier for those seeking help.”

All of which sounds simple. The fact that we’re still talking about it and the fact that we still require a World Suicide Prevention Day proves that is not the case. We might all be more aware today of mental health issues but – like war, poverty and inequality – awareness isn’t the same as cure. And in the field of construction and demolition we currently find ourselves living in unprecedented times of economic uncertainty, a fertile breeding ground for mental health issues. Post-lockdown but with the Coronavirus still hanging over all of us, many working men (and we are talking primarily about men here) are facing employment and financial fears and potential redundancy and unemployment. Those that have been fortunate enough to retain their jobs may find themselves working further from home, away from the support of family and friends.

I am neither a psychologist nor a statistician and I am certainly no expert on mental health issues. But against that background, a spike in construction sector suicides seems almost inevitable.

Mates in Mind believes that breaking the silence and stigma surrounding mental ill-health is a crucial step towards providing a safe and healthy workplace environment, which can play a vital role in suicide prevention.

The challenge is that this conversation needs to be ongoing. It is a conversation that needs to continue long after World Suicide Prevention Day; and long after the mental health awareness course organised at the behest of a construction client or a Tier 1 contractor. In my – admittedly limited – experience, this is currently not the case.

On the numerous occasions in the past when I have spoken or written about mental health, there is an instant outpouring of support and gratitude, often from people I have never met. Those discussions have even helped build bridges previously burned and put me back into positive contact with those that had a long-held and often justified) negative view of me. But it is short-lived. On the day an article or podcast drops, there is a huge spike in response. That spike quickly fades however. And within a week or a month, it is as if that conversation never took place at all.

Sad and frustrating though this might be, that precipitous fall-off points to precisely why this conversation belongs not on social media where attention spans are fleeting; in magazines or newspapers that are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping; nor in the classroom where lessons are all too often erased by the sounding of the dinner bell. This is a conversation that needs to take place – and continue to take place – between working men.

Those working men talk freely – and often in graphic detail – about their alcoholic excesses and their sexual conquests. So why don’t they talk about their mental health challenges, personal concerns and private anguish? My guess – and it is just a guess – is while the amount of beer consumed in a single sitting or the success with the opposite sex are seen as somehow manly, any admission of mental health issues is perceived as weakness. And that is the biggest concern of all right now.

Working men and site workers have already demonstrated an inability to “open up” to colleagues and employers amidst fears of being labelled weak. Now with the spectre of redundancy and unemployment looming large for many, some working men (and women) could be even more reluctant to admit their vulnerability and to seek support and help.

You can read more about World Suicide Prevention Day by clicking this link.

Parting of the ways…

Splitting from our publishing partners.

It is with a heavy heart and more than a little regret that I must announce that – with immediate effect – DemolitionNews and the Demolition magazine has parted company with Chambers Media, its publishing partner of some three years.

Chambers Media played a key role in establishing the Demolition magazine as the world’s biggest and most widely-read publication within the demolition sector.

However, in recent months, it has become clear that the ambitions of the two parties lay in very different directions; a fact that was exacerbated and polarised by the prolonged COVID-19 lockdown.

Both and the Demolition magazine will continue to pursue its editorial and opinion-led coverage of the industry together with its world-leading social media and video strategy.

Furthermore, the familiar DemolitionNews, Demolition magazine and Diggers and Dozers brand will return to our full control and will remain unchanged
We sincerely hope that this split will remain amicable and wish Chambers Media every success in their solo pursuits.

Hitachi unveils new generation excavators…

Hitachi has unveiled the next generation of Zaxis-7 large excavators. The new ZX490LCH-7, ZX530LCH-7, ZX690LCH-7 and ZX890LCH-7 Stage-V compliant models have an industry-leading cab with first-class comfort and safety features.

Check out our exclusive coverage of these new machines below:

Hitachi Puts Users In Control

Dizzying drone work…

Demolition like you’ve never seen it before.

Demolition can be a thrill ride. But believe me, nothing will prepare you for this dizzying drone work of the demolition process from views and angles I have never seen before:

Comment – Someone else’s problem…

Mark Anthony
This time last week, I received an email from an MSc Building Surveying student from Kingston University who is currently writing her dissertation on “designing for ‘end-of-life’ of high-rise buildings in London”. She wanted to pick my brains on the subject; a process that could be completed in a matter of seconds. I explained that I am but a mere journalist but – having written Rise of the Super Towers – the brain-picking went ahead anyway.

The resulting conversation wound up lasting almost an hour and a half and covered a multitude of subjects including the challenge of demolishing increasingly high tower blocks, the use of hard or impossible to recycle materials, the 911 tragedy, Grenfell Tower and – weirdly – the pyramids.
During our discussion, I was struck constantly by just how smart and insightful this young lady was. Not in a patronising “oh isn’t the little lady clever” way; more in a “why isn’t she in charge of government policy” way. Even though she was asking the questions, it seemed that she already had most of the answers.

All of which set me thinking about how it is that a young student can identify a significant future challenge when central and local government, planning authorities, architects, specifiers, clients and construction companies cannot. By the time we hung up the phone, I think we had deduced the problem that lies within the problem. And ironically, it seems that the problem will remain a problem all the while it is someone else’s problem.

An architect designing a shiny new central London tower block is seeking to create something that marries form and function but which also carries his or her design aesthetic. The specifier that then takes that creation is likely enamoured with sexy new materials that are thermally efficient, fire retardant and kind to bees. The construction company tasked with taking that design and those materials and making flesh the architect’s vision a reality is generally chosen based upon price and wants to get that high rise finished so they can get paid. Meanwhile, the local authority is just happy to see additional housing or office space going up in their backyard. National government can point to the positivity of this inward investment, and to the accommodation or employment that this shiny new edifice will bring. And the client will be busily rubbing their hands together in eager anticipation of financial windfall that is about to drop.

As you can see, there are multiple layers of stakeholders involved in bringing this imaginary tower block to life and to grace the London skyline.
You will note that at no point during this fictional new development was there any mention of demolition or of what might happen in 20, 30 or 40 years’ time when the building reaches the end of its viable life. You will note also that, to varying degrees, any legacy responsibility for that building begins and ends when construction ends and its occupation begins. Unless it falls down, makes its occupants sick, or is found to be melting the paint on cars parked close by, that building is now someone else’s problem. Ultimately, it is the demolition man or woman’s problem.

It is the demolition industry that will have to figure out how to tackle the bizarre shape of the building created by the architect. It is the demolition industry that will have to figure out how or even if the “super-materials” specified can be reused, repurposed or recycled. It is the demolition industry that will have to devise a way to deconstruct a massive building that was thrown up by the lowest bidder. And it is the demolition industry that will have to accomplish all this whilst conforming to safety and environmental legislation to satisfy national government; and bring down the building without closing a road, creating noise, dust or vibration, within specific hours of the day, and without disturbing the single great crested newt that has taken up residence in the buildings fire suppression plumbing, and – thereby – avoid falling foul of local government restrictions.

In short, those involved in the creation of a new tower block can wash their hands of the building as soon as the curtain go up inside. It is demolition that will have to get its hands dirty to deal with that creation. And demolition will be required to do so with those dirty hands tied tightly behind its back.

Frustrating though this is, it is also entirely understandable. Those companies and individuals involved in the building’s design and construction will have long since moved on when the time comes for their creation to be demolished. Many will have retired. This is exacerbated at local and national government level as, in all likelihood, those involved at the point of conception and construction will have been voted out or up long before that building reaches the end of its useful life.

Yet for all of this, I firmly believe that the demolition sector is partly responsible for the failure to build for future demolition; that it is an architect of its own challenging future.

Nothing I said to the super-smart young student and nothing I have written here is in an way new. People like Dr Terry Quarmby have been banging the “end of life directive” drum so hard and for so long that its beat has now become background noise, even though it marries perfectly with modern legacy and sustainability thinking.

Demolition’s problem is not that it is not talking about this subject. It is that it is talking to itself about it.

There was a time when the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) had one or two tame members of parliament that – in return for a posh lunch and the chance to socialise with some rufty-tufty demolition men, could be called upon to fight demolition’s corner and to lobby to make demolition’s life better or easier. To the best of my knowledge, this is no longer the case. While construction has expanded and deepened its lobbying power, the UK’s demolition trade body has surrendered theirs.

The NFDC is represented within Build UK, an association most of the nation’s biggest and most influential Tier 1 construction companies. But the Federation’s aim is to encourage Build UK members to work with its members, a position that renders the NFDC an obedient lapdog that will jump through hoops to satisfy its much larger master. (If you think I am overstating the imbalance of that relationship, consider this. Just a few weeks after Build UK was forced to admit that NONE of its members had adhered to its own late payment initiative, the organisation’s head was invited to speak at the NFDC AGM in front of an audience of the very people that were being financially crucified by tardy payments by those Tier 1 contractors. And she had the temerity to suggest that her members needed the help of those in attendance to make payments on time. In a balanced relationship, she would have been held to account. She received a round of applause.)

The NFDC also has a place on the board of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), affording another opportunity to possibly influence the future direction of the sector. But with CITB grant funding at stake, any such influence is seemingly compromised, leaving the demolition sector with a training regime that is overblown, overly-complex, over-priced and over here.

In a normal world, the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE) hosts a pair of seminars that have traditionally demonstrated the very best of demolition. Those seminars are an opportunity to showcase the sector’s prowess and to share its challenges and concerns with a wider audience. But, in recent years, attendees from outside the demolition sector have been notable by their absence, leaving the industry to talk to itself once again.

This ongoing failure to engage, to lead and to influence will make no difference whatsoever to local and national government. It will make no difference to architects, specifiers, construction companies or clients. The only people that will be impacted are the demolition men and women of the future.

Our failure to make our voices heard today is annoying and frustrating. That failure will be a far bigger problem in the years and decades to come; a problem for someone else to resolve. Now doesn’t that sound familiar.