Two stars of the home improvement TV show firmament shared their views of the building industry with delegates at the BMF All Industry Conference last week.
Tommy Walsh, who rose to fame on BBC’s gardening makeover show Groundforce and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen of BBC’s Home Front and Changing Rooms gave assembled delegates their perspectives of the industry – as a builder and a designer, respectively.
“I am first and foremost a builder, and very proud to be one,” Walsh said. “My background is in the building trade – my dad had a firm manufacturing breeze blocks and I went to work for him at an early age.”
The advent of more thermally efficient aerated concrete blocks mean t that his company had to diversify – they couldn’t compete so they turned to making hard landscaping products which was Walsh’s foray into the landscaping sector.
He called for greater transparency and a more even-handed approach to price discounts. He said when cash flow is so important to a merchant’s business, he couldn’t understand why, because he preferred to pay cash on collection for building products, he could not access the same pricing discounts as those who pay large account bills every couple of months. While he said he understood the principle of volume discounts, that loyalty had to count for something, and smaller builders who buy less stock, but shop more frequently and pay cash, should be able to build up the same discounts.
Looking further ahead, Walsh said that the shortage of skills could limit the industry’s potential in years to come. “It’s vitally important to have a skilled workforce. If we don’t have a skilled workforce and send all our youngsters into further education and academia then who is going to build our houses? Who are merchants going to sell their products to? If we don’t invest in our youngsters then we will regret it .”
Walsh also highlighted the need for 300,000 more houses to be built every year just to keep up with the expected growth in the UK population. “This should be good news,” Walsh said, “but supply issues are forcing material prices up. We will have to change this unless we want our kids living with us until they are pensioners.
“Suppliers and builders must work together to find a solution. Forget about the politicians, It’s the industry that has to take the lead in creating new, efficient homes for everyone, and not just in the private sector.
“The industry needs to embrace new methods of construction alongside traditional methods to improve the housing shortage Both suppliers and builders have to find solutions. We have to lead and embrace new ways creating affordable, thermally efficient homes, maybe evening looking at prefabrication off site homes that can be slotted together on site.”
Laurence Lewellyn Bowen told delegates: “We are on the cusp of an extraordinary situation where we will need to build more homes than we have ever built before. This is a huge opportunity for us all to innovate together, to come together to use design and technology to create something amazing.”
“The envelope is there to be pushed. In this industry this is what is needed,” he went on, explaining his project to bring a derelict barn in the Cotsworlds back to life using the best, most innovative low energy products. “There is so much innovation in technology that we can focus into a new way of making the British home. This isn’t just about architects and designers or builders or surveyors. It’s about all of us.
“I want,” he said, “to create a real showcase for what can be achieved. We are aiming to make something that is thermally efficient and works but is also inspiring. One of problems is idea that greenfields being gobbled up unneccesarily when have derelict places that could be used to create housing in an exciting way but people need to see what can be achieved.
“What we do as an industry is extraordinary. It’s all about that Cinderella moment when you take an unloved building and transform, it. With a bit of British derring do it’s amazing what can be achieved.”