Eight out of Ten Bricks

Construction Industry – a cornerstone of the economic recovery

The construction industry in the UK began 2014 in a position of continued growth, with the recovery in the housing market and the anticipated creation of approximately 200,000 jobs in the next 4/5 years. With borrowing for mortgages having eased, demand for new housing is expected to account for more than 30% of the industry’s £120bn a year contribution to UK output. Government targets are set at 240,000 new homes annually from 2016.

Housing demand still under achieving

Around 6% of UK economy is generated through the construction industry but even with the turnaround, which reflects a 20% increase compared to a year ago, the supply of new homes is still behind where it needs to be to meet targets and demand. Given that the industry is still operating at around 10% lower than the pre-recession peak, there’s still some way to go. Figures reported for May this year show the slowest growth of the last 6 months, though still up on the same period last year with June expected show a further surge.

The CPA (Construction Products Association) has forecast figures for healthy growth up to 2017 and although optimistic is suggesting caution beyond 2015. In the private housing sector they predict good levels of growth between now and 2016 when they expect a dip as the Help to Buy Scheme comes to an end – however the housing demand will still be there and if the economy is healthy then it should still be positive for the sector.

Great news, and yes eight out of ten bricks manufactured in this country are used for house building. 1.73 billion bricks were made in 2013 – enough to go around the earth 9 timesbricks in demand

Skill shortage

Another fact recently reported is the need for 200,000 recruits to the industry by 2020 to meet demand. The Smith Institute reports that the construction industry is still largely a no go area for women with only 11% in the workforce and less than 1% in manual trades. This compares poorly with many other industries and given that women now make up almost half of the UK’s workforce, it is something that maybe needs careful consideration to make sure that the skills demanded for the future can be met. As the industry changes and relies less on muscle and more on technical expertise, the high tech, multi-skilled building world of tomorrow is just as suited to women as men. Perhaps our educators need appraising of this fact!women in construction

Additive manufacturing (AM)

3d printing houseAround for a few years now, 3D printing allows a computer aided design (CAD) models to be created using Additive Manufacturing. It has moved into many disciplines including product design, fashion and even biological tissue building. It didn’t take too long for the concept to be taken on by the construction and building industry for concrete elements and now large scale housing construction is taking place by a Chinese company based in Suzhou.

The Method

Objects are created via a scan or digital file sent to a printer with the item being built layer by layer and the company has now used this method to construct ten houses in less than 24 hours. The cost has come in at around $5000 using just four 10m x 6.6m x 32m printers to spray a mix of cement and construction waste. The process involves the creation of building blocks with a diagonally reinforced print pattern which leaves plenty of air space to act as insulation. Once printed the blocks can be transported and quickly assembled on site.

The company estimates a saving of up to 60% in materials and 80% in labour compared to traditional methods and reduces many of the hazards found on traditional construction sites. As well as all this, the build would be around 70% faster. They also anticipate being able to build skyscrapers in future. The printers can build to a wide range of digital designs according to customer requirements.

In Europe too…

The Dutch, not to be outdone are also in the process of creating a house using plastics based heavily on plant oil. This concept has been initiated by DUS architects, an Amsterdam based architecture office founded in 2004 by Hans Vermeulen, Hedwig Heinsman and Martine de Wit.

They currently house the printer in a shipping container with the idea that it can be moved to whatever location needed. Again, pieces for the house are individually created to be slotted together. It could be that plastic waste could eventually be used for this process. Actually in Amsterdam, the 3D Print Canal House is an exhibition, research and building site for 3D Printing Architecture. Their ambition – to cut transport cost, create unique facades to suit customer needs and reduce waste as the process goes straight from raw material to end product. They also feel that other products could be used and are looking at wooden pallets and natural stone waste, all in keeping with sustainable practices.

The Dutch project is designed to take up to 3 years – it’s a research and design project rather than a quick fix to a housing shortage and they point out that in the future 3D houses will be built on a much quicker scale.

The National Trust

The National Trust is indeed a National Treasure. The work they do encompasses the conservation and protection of nature reserves, castles, many historic houses, villages, forests and farmland.  Their work is endless and vital. When we visit many of these amazing places, we rarely have any inkling of the amount of work, research and effort that goes into some of the most difficult situations the UK faces… protecting our coastlines for example, is like trying to hold back the sea, and yes it can be done if you want to talk hard and soft engineering.

Energy and the Environment

The Trust is committed to using renewable energy (our favourite kind of subject) and one of the projects has been the installation of a hydro turbine in Snowdonia which, with 1 mile of pipe and around 6 tonnes of steel will generate in the region of 1,900 MWhr a year which is more than needed to light all the properties in Wales in their care which includes 8 mansions, 3 castles and just short of 50 holiday homes.

Another major change is at Plas Newydd where a marine source heat pump will heat a 300 year old mansion house, previously the Trust’s biggest oil user using up to 1,500 litres of oil per day during cold weather. That’s 10 months use for an average house. Using a heat exchanger, a relatively small amount of water from the Menai Strait is pumped to and from a heat exchanger on the shore and upward 30 metres to the boiler house in the mansion saving up to £40,000 in operating costs.Plas Newydd


No doubt there were many in Snowdonia including rain, snow, and rock not to mention somewhere in the region of 60,000 walkers. Add to that the need to effectively ‘hide’ the hydro – no mean feat when you consider it captures half a tonne of water every second and generates a couple of million kilowatt hours every year of renewable energy.  At Plas Newydd, the size of the heat source pump, at 300kw one of the biggest in the UK, new technology and having to protect the site’s fragile environment and archaeology presented its own challenges.

The Outcome

A saving of some £4 million on their energy bill every year which can be invested in conservation work across the UK. They are committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels by 50% within the next 10 years (The Trust is against fracking on their land because natural gas is a fossil gas) and generating half of all energy needed from renewable and cleaner energy sources by 2020 by using a range of solar and biomass as well as hydro technology and wind turbines.

Climate Change

Again not something you automatically think about effecting the National Trust other than perhaps flooding but rainwater that that caused so much chaos and damage on the ground in recent times also causes penetration of driven rain which some of the Trust’s historic buildings find difficult to cope with. Adapting roof and rainwater goods is not only costly but can be difficult to achieve with listed buildings. Defending 742 miles of coastline, with 169 sites along 380miles of National Trust owned coastline that is threatened by land by erosion, is more than a minor headache and one of many the Trust faces. It’s good work.- long may it continue.

We know we keep beating the same old drum….

save energy, save money, save our world


If you’re a shoe fan the idea of being barefoot probably isn’t something you think much about unless you’re on a beach somewhere. Even indoors the majority of us seem to don some kind of covering on our feet which brings us to the question of Earthing and our wellbeing.

The Scientific approach…

The earth holds a huge reservoir of negatively charged free electrons. In the world we now inhabit, our environment is host to a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation from things like computers and mobile phones, domestic wiring, electrical appliances and many other sources. We humans are electrical beings, therefore this type of environment can affect both our ability to deal with electromagnetic radiation and the positive charges which results from things like electron-deficient free radicals, which apparently can unbalance our bodies. Still with us?


Our ancestors went barefoot and slept on the ground. In other words, they were always connected to the Earth’s energy. Culturally, a connection with the earth was previously regarded as very important and remains so with some indigenous people even today. By comparison, our modern living disconnects us from the ground and the earth’s energy, through modes of transport, the way we live off the ground and the use of rubber or plastic soles on our shoes.


There’s not a massive amount of scientific research but since the 1990s reports indicate that there is a possible connection to chronic pain, poor sleep and fatigue which for some, is much a part of day to day modern life.


The chance to try it is free, accessible and relatively easily available with reports suggesting that regular contact with the earth through sitting, standing or walking on grass, sand, soil, even concrete  all of which are conductive, can improve sleep, increase energy and reduce stress. There are products to be bought for those of us less willing or able to trot round without shoes or sleep in the woods, in the form of mats, sheets and pillow cases or patches and wrist bands, even footwear with grounding plugs. We haven’t tried it yet but we’re prepared to give it a go.

So the next time you get the option to kick off your shoes, do it… you might be surprised.


A Partnership…

Have you noticed what a difference a celebrity can make to the value we place on things? There are charities with famous patrons, brands of clothing, footwear, perfume and hair care products that are associated with the rich and famous who are somehow able to persuade us that these things are desirable and we should buy them ‘because we’re worth it.’ How happy are we then, to talk about a man genuinely trying to persuade the world that ‘things don’t have to end, they can begin again.’ A man who believes that waste is only waste if we waste it! Round of applause if you please, for will.i.am and the project he is involved in with probably the most well know and valuable brand in the world, Coca-Cola – one of the top ten private employers in the world. Add the impressive credentials of the ever more creative innovator and philanthropist that is will.i.am (not to mention his musical success) and it sounds like a winning partnership.

The idea…

The project EKOCYCLE is dedicated to re-imagining waste into fashionable lifestyle goods. will.i.am started the project in 2012 although the idea was born several years earlier after a Black Eyed Peas concert when the band realised how much rubbish and waste fans left behind . Along with the Coke guys, the plan has been to manufacture products made, in part, from recycled waste that would have gone into landfill. Coca-Cola will make a minimum $1 million charitable contribution commitment over a 5 year period in addition to a further 1 per cent of the operating profit made through their Foundation. The project engages with brand partners to bring us a range of products manufactured in an environmentally sustainable way. There are many brand partners  including Levi’s 501 Waste<Less Jeans  made from 29% post-consumer recycled content and using an average of 8 recycled PET plastic bottles per pair – hopefully this goes some way to reusing some of the 1 million bottles thrown away every 20 minutes somewhere on the planet.

And the man…

will.i.am is also president of the i.am.angel  Foundation whose aim is to transform lives through education, inspiration and opportunity, investing in America’s future and its youth. He also donated £500,000 to the Prince’s Trust in the UK in June 2012, to fund a technology programme for young people (his fee from his role as coach on The Voice.) Last year he launched a UK initiative with The Trust to engage disadvantaged young people in STEM, an initiative to encourage development of skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – again looking to the future!

Are we persuaded…?

Yes we are…

Save energy, save money, save our world

Housing shortage.

If like me, you live in an area that has seen considerable growth in housing (with more planned) you might question the view that Britain is facing a property shortage of over a million homes in the next eight to ten years. It can seems that small and large developments spring up, individually designed homes appear in spaces we barely noticed were there and acres of green fields can disappear in a matter of months. Not bad news for the builders amongst us…but why aren’t we able to meet the demand for new homes.

North South Divide?

The level of crisis is varied with the heaviest demand in the South East where, according to recent reports, the demand for new homes is recorded at 70% with supply currently only meeting 50% of this. Potentially the knock on effect is a shortage of services in the public sectors as more nursing, teaching and other staff are forced out of the housing market and area, by rising property prices as the demand outweighs supply. Lack of demand further North and in the Midlands has ironically seen a decline in urban areas where the need is not so acute and in fact in some areas, is low enough to result in empty and abandoned property.

80,000 homes needed

“This is a big challenge for our country. We have got to build more homes.” George Osbourne recently quoted.

Reports are now suggestive of the idea that policy makers start to recognise that a supply of new and affordable homes is hugely important for the prosperity of the UK. Lord Best, a Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and author of a working paper on this subject stated that the bulk of the new homes could go on recycled ‘brownfield’ sites. He added that this would only happen with positive planning, land assembly and decontamination of polluted sites and said that investment in older areas is also vital from an environmental, social and economic view. He also commented that the Government’s target of building 60% of new homes on ‘brownfield’ sites, if achieved, would still mean somewhere in the region of 80,000 plus homes being built on undeveloped ‘greenfield’ sites. Urban extensions using innovative and attractive designs to build higher densities are urged, extending existing towns and cities rather than developing new towns. In this way existing public transport routes and schools, shops and facilities can be accessed. Sounds like a plan…

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has a history of tackling the root causes of social problems and injustices with the foundation being established by Joseph Rowntree in 1904 with the purpose of building the garden village of New Earswick near York which still exists today. The foundation provides housing, care homes, retirement and supported housing so are in an ideal position to comment on the situation. This philanthropist and very successful business man hoped his legacy would be used to improve society, to tackle the causes of social issues rather than treating the symptoms. He set up three trusts all of which are still based in York, each working independently but still looking to achieve his aims.uk housing shortage

Nantwich Jazz Festival

nantwich jazz festivalThings you may already know…

Nantwich hosts its 18th Jazz & Blues Festival over the Easter weekend starting on Thursday 17th right through to Sunday.

The event attracts many thousands of visitors to the town to participate in a festival of music held across numerous venues including the Civic Hall and many of the town centre pubs and restaurants.  An entry ‘wristband’ is needed for admission into many establishments but often with no further payment to enjoy the music on offer. However other organised events do require tickets for admission.

The event which started as a relatively small musical affair is now a major calendar event for visitors and businesses in the town. Full details of performances and ticket sales can be found through the Jazz Festival site.

And things you may not…

Nantwich known formerly as Wich, Wich Malbanc & Namptwych.

The town of Wich is noted in the Domesday Book in 1086 as having a salt pit and salt pans. It has endured a great many trials and tribulations and was flattened during the Norman Conquest.  It was known by neighbouring Welshmen as Hellath Wen – ‘town of white salt’ and was invaded by them in 1150. In 1245 the town was destroyed by King Henry lll to deny the Welsh access to the salt pits. The town endured many more attempted invasions but a greater catastrophe managed what the Welsh couldn’t.nantwich building

The town was burned to the ground in the Great Fire in 1583 on 10 December with half the population made homeless (about 900) with the destruction of 150 houses, inns and buildings. This included much of Hospital Street as far a Sweet Briar Hall which remains to this day, along with Churches Mansions. The Crown Inn – very much involved in the Jazz Festival – was burned to the ground and rebuilt 2 years later. It is very much a part of historic Nantwich, though no longer as an important coaching inn on the route from London to Wales and Ireland.

Thanks to the intervention of Queen Elizabeth l who launched a nationwide collection of funds, to which she donated £1000 (today worth £165,000), the town was rebuilt to continue as an important military staging post and salt producer (the best means for preserving in the days before refrigeration). The Queen’s generosity is marked by a plaque on the building known as ‘Queens Aid House’ and also a plaque on a plinth in the Waterlode that marks the start of the fire.nantwich plaque

Nantwich historically has had a far from easy life but an interesting one – the Battle of Nantwich occurring in January 1644 yet another landmark occasion celebrated by Holly Holy Day each year.  We are nothing if not survivors!

So, if your visit to the Nantwich Jazz & Blues Festival is your first to the town, perhaps come back another time to enjoy our fine historic buildings and learn a bit more about the Dabbers!


Spring in the air or is it Nitrogen Oxide?

Air pollution – very much in the news over the last week or so with parts of the UK experiencing levels to cause concern (see image London last week.)  According to advice on the Defra website, anyone with lung or heart problems should, at times such as this, reduce strenuous physical exertion especially outdoors. Asthma sufferers and older people may also feel the impact of high pollution levels, as will anyone with colds or coughs. It didn’t sound all that serious, and depending on where you were in the country, you may not have noticed it. However dig a little deeper and some startling facts come to light.london smog

Apparently the UK has failed to reduce levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NO 2)air pollution and in February the European Commission launched legal proceedings. The challenge it seems, is reducing air pollution targets near busy roads. A spokesman for the Commission stated that around 30,000 people in the UK die prematurely from problems associated with this ‘silent killer.’ That’s nearly 600 people a week! Cast around a little further and, according to the World Health Organisation, it is linked to 7 million deaths around the world as is the biggest environmental health risk we face. Oh yes and the legal proceedings for this failure could mean fines of £300m a year for the UK, not to mention the burden on the NHS which we all pay for.

So what exactly should we be doing? Dust blowing in from the Sahara is not generally something that we can control and is a natural process that does have a positive effect for oceans and forests, but what about other contributing factors? In the UK the problems occur when the dust combines with high levels of localised air pollutants which can cause irritation to the lungs.


The problem is not a new one – back in Victorian England there was a balance to be struck between industrial (and often dirty) growth  which created jobs and the degradation of the environment (see image of pottery town Longton)  . Anywhere that produced chemicals or metals experienced ‘noxious vapours’ that killed plants and animals and undermined the health of the local population.  The question posed ‘filthy and waged or clean and poor?’ In 1874 the Alkali Act was introduced in an attempt to make manufacturers responsible for the control of such vapours but the courts were clear, industrialists should not be penalised as the result would be the loss and closure of business and the destruction of the towns. In addition as the poor became more prosperous they burned coal, as did the factories that employed them. This resulted in poor air quality and the deaths of many from respiratory diseases.london smog victorian

Today it is exposure to fine particulate matter (tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in air) produced from fuel combustion, vehicles or from stationary sources such as power plants, industry, households or biomass burning so the problem still exists.

As with all things we look to government to fix and control it and we blame them when there’s a problem… however, how many of us habitually jump in the car to drive less than 2 minutes down the road? And who would think twice about jetting off for that well deserved holiday without worrying about the impact on the environment.  We talk a lot about reducing our individual carbon footprint to help lessen climate change and many of the same things that cause global warming are also polluting the air we breathe.

We can all help.

The European Commission is tasked with issuing targets, our own government and local authorities have responsibilities but so do we. Low emission zones restrict certain ‘dirty’ vehicles but that tends to be larger cities and not the multitude of smaller towns. Ok the infrastructure for alternative travel may not be the best but… emissions from a lot of cars are one of the major pollutant factors…

So the next time you pick up your car keys think about the alternatives! And  if you can walk or cycle rather than drive then do it – better for you, better for the kids and definitely better for the planet.city cycle

Save energy, save money, save our world.

There can be no doubt that technological innovation has brought some truly remarkable ideas and products into being. As a result we’ve journeyed into space, can communicate instantly with people all over the world, and, with a few key strokes, access a library of information containing 1.81 billion indexed pages through the World Wide Web. What’s not to love?

Let’s consider innovation from a different angle… throughout history, as far back as 400 BC there is archaeological evidence that points to the concept and practice recycling of materials. Byzantine glass and Roman coins are two such examples and the re-use of items continued for thousands of years including, in Britain, the practice of recycling the ashes from wood and coal fires as the base material for making bricks. Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and the art of the recycling, reusing and reducing started to take a hit. Mass production and technological developments (plastic, polystyrene, nylon etc.) allowed everyday items to be made cheaply enough to replace, rather than the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy of previous years.


As a result we now generate somewhere in the region of 177 million tonnes of waste annually in England alone. The environmental damage we’ve discussed on this site before but, in short, methane which is a dangerous and powerful greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, is produced from landfill sites. For many years we’ve had scant regard for our resources both financially and environmentally. We buy things we don’t need, we throw away perfectly good items and replace things before they wear out! We’re constantly exposed to advertising suggesting ways we can spend our hard earned money – and that when we’ve got the latest model, gadget or contraption then we’ll be happier and more content – of course!


So bad is our penchant for throwing things out that England has a Waste Prevention Programme to educate us in the ways of very possibly ‘saving ourselves a lot of money’ as well as protecting our environment.

The programme is aimed at businesses to encourage a more sustainable economy – building waste reduction into design and offering alternative business models to deliver new and improved products and services. It hopes to inspire a culture of valuing resources so we think about and have access to, ways of reducing waste, to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don’t see that darning the holes in socks catching on but you never know! The good thing is, as a nation, we are at least aware again of the benefits of sorting our everyday rubbish to reduce what goes into landfill and what can be recycled and it seems that at least some, of the £400m worth of furniture and a myriad of other goods, are rescued from the tip and resold by enterprising councils and charities. A great way to reduce landfill targets and give new life to old and unwanted items… one man’s rubbish another man’s treasure and all that…

Think milk deliveries – one of greatest recycling achievements has to have been the humble milk bottle – delivered and then collected for re-use, a glass milk bottle was re-used at least a dozen times.milkman


You can help…

So… think charity shop donations, ebay (surely a major player in the recycling sector), think about how many millions of plastic bags there are already in landfill for the next hundred years and think about shopping for what you need, not just what you want.

save energy, save money, save our world

All Change For Crewe

all change for crewe

And not before time some might say… but first a quick look back.

In the beginning

“Crewe – owes its prosperity entirely to the fact of its having become one of the most important railway centres in the world. The London and North West Railway Company has its works here – an enormous establishment for the manufacture of engines, carriages and all descriptions of railway plant.”  So wrote John Bartholomew, Gazetteer of the British Isles, back in 1887.crewe works

With a population of 24,385 Crewe came into being almost entirely as a result of the railway station being built in 1837, followed by the development of Crewe Works by the Grand Junction Railway which later, with the addition of other railways, became The London and North West Railway Company. Over the following years many thousands of local people were employed and Crewe was indeed a thriving and important Cheshire town well into the 20th century.

But then… in more recent times and despite some good solid businesses, the good fortune of the town, its heart, along with its economy began to disappear. The reasons are many and not especially simple but it would be true to say that the Crewe of old is barely recognisable.

So what next…

All Change for Crewe is an ambitious strategic programme designed to support sustainable economic growth and development in the town. It’s not a short term fix and will require major investment over the next 20 years that will see the town revitalised. The plans include a centre for advanced engineering and manufacturing (sound familiar?) with a vision that would see the town becoming a sought after place for people to live, to work and to put down roots.  Five key priorities include developing Crewe as a world-class hub for the automotive and rail industries, making the town a UK centre of excellence in employer-led skills, positioning Crewe as a market leader in renewable energy (geothermal as discussed by us very recently) and spearheading a £500 million infrastructure programme for the town. Bentley Motor’s £1 billion investment in new product development has already seen employment opportunities benefitting the local community and a proposed new University Technical College backed by Bentley, Siemens, OSL and Manchester Metropolitan will help deliver skilled workers needed to help realise both their, and the town’s ambitions for the future.


Love it or hate it HS2 also has the potential to turn Crewe into a hub station bringing more potential benefits to the town and the North in general – although the hub could be on an alternative site South of the town. It’s a controversial topic and the debate continues about the possibilities versus the realities. Pete Waterman OBE – friend of Crewe, known to us locally for his work through The London and North Western Railway Heritage Company of which is he Chairman, gives HS2 his seal of approval and here is a man who knows about trains, and about business, and about the way it is North of Watford. No doubt the debate will continue for a long time to come!

The Crewe of tomorrow

  • 14,500 new jobs focused on the Basford strategic employment site
  • Over £230million additional retail and leisure spend
  • 20% population growth by 2031 (currently 83,000)
  • Crewe Rail Exchange – a high quality gateway into Crewe developing a new station entrance, improved concourse and station facilities
  • A new public transport interchange and improved access arrangements to relieve traffic congestion

The list goes on… and we think that the Crewe of old, a town with pride in its industrial heritage deserves not just a face lift, but a whole new face.