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Sustaining the industry

I shall the effect of this good lesson
keeps as watchman to my heart.

Phew! I haven’t been to a UK building exhibition as good as that one since, well the 1990s probably.

That’s not just a quote from me, by the way, it’s something that a lot of people were saying about last week’s Ecobuild show.

Last year there were rumblings of dissent about the move away from Earls Court to the farthest reaches of Docklands and the Excel complex. Well, any misgivings I and others might have had were silenced at Canning Town at 10am on the opening day when four DLR trains went by before I had a chance to get on one.

Standing there in the biting east wind, it occurred to me that maybe it was a result of the logistics, that the layout of the DLR stations might make numbers feel rather bigger than they actually were. Not so. Getting into the halls themselves proved just as tricky at times.

OK, so numbers aren’t the only thing to make a successful show but the noises coming from some pretty excited exhibitors showed that those high numbers were being matched by interest and enthusiasm from the punters.

There were downsides to the move to Excel, of course. There was space to expand the show and boy, did it expand. Someone told me today it was actually twice as big as it had been last year, though I don’t know if that is true or if it just felt bigger.

In theory, it should have been easier to navigate – Excel halls being nice, even rectangles compared with Earls Court’s rather odd shape. It wasn’t. Please tell me I’m not the only one who spotted stands on the first morning which then seemed to vanish, never to be found again. The placing of stands, too, was a little odd. Surely it would have made more sense to have grouped all the heating/solar/renewable people together in a more logical way? Too many complementary or competing stands were too far away from each other for visitors to be able to really make the most of their limited time. Energy-saving should also apply to people!

This year also answered one of last year’s questions. Is this an ‘eco’ show or a mainstream building one. It was very definitely the latter- which may have lessened its appeal for the more radical ‘greenists’- but which also showed how far the mainstream building industry has come with the notion of sustainability.

For that, I think, is what this year’s Ecobuild really was about at its heart. It’s no longer an ‘eco’ show. It’s one at which its core exhibitors have realised that we need building and construction as much as ever. But we need that building and construction to be conducted in a way that takes account of the planet and the future and that looks at the bigger picture rather than just the bottom line.

It was great to see that those merchants who had made the effort to invest and attend were justified with heaving stands and loads of interest. We’ve been saying for years that if merchants don’t grab this opportunity, then sustainable building will go the way of double glazing – into the hands of specialists and away from the merchant sector altogether. Well TP, Grafton, Jewson& Graham and Wolseley’s Plumb Center took that message to heart.

Demonstrations are usually a hit at shows and this one was no different. The crowds flocking to the Plumb Center installer demonstration area, not just to watch the products being demonstrated but happy to be ‘zapped’ for follow-up calls and information were enough to have Wolseley’s head of sustainability Tim Pollard hopping around like an excited schoolboy.

In previous years, it was said that it was the excellent seminars and conference running within the exhibition itself that brought in the punters who then had a trawl around the show as they were there anyway. I don’t think that was the case this time. It seemed to me as though the people at the exhibition were there because it was a sustainable building show. They were there to see and be seen, but also to be informed and educated.

A final thought. An exhibition organiser can only do so much. If there is to be any kind of genuine buzz at a show, it has to be generated by the quality of the ideas, products and information being exhibited. And that quality was there in spades.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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