Lessons learned through lockdown could rebuild the future of construction

Kevin Reid

By Kevin Reid, chief executive of the Cruden Group

AS the construction industry begins its journey through the restart plan, we consider how lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to rebuild the future of this vital sector.

From building the Louisa Jordan hospital, to donating lifesaving equipment, the industry has played a fundamental role in responding to the pandemic. We have learned that there has never been a greater need for a safe place to call home and the sector has a huge task ahead to provide both the private and affordable homes that the country so desperately needs.

Cruden is one of Scotland’s largest independently owned and longest established construction and residential development businesses. Although all of our construction sites were safely closed towards the end of March, we maintained our corporate presence to inform and liaise with customers and key stakeholders, and retained a core team, deployed to monitor our sites and ensure their continued safety and security.

And now, as construction re-mobilises, we can reflect on a number of lessons learned that will help shape our business in the months and years to come.

We can get back on to sites safely but we might be building in new ways

The construction sector was the first to provide the Scottish Government with a return to work plan, demonstrating its responsible and proactive approach. At Cruden, we have developed new safe working practices and operating procedures to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees and sub-contractors remains our top priority. We were delighted to demonstrate these at exemplar sites in Edinburgh and Glasgow recently, in front of representatives of the trade unions, Scottish Government and industry leadership groups.

With these new measures in place, it seems likely that there will be a productivity gap over the coming months. This leaves the challenge of how to meet the continued pent up demand for housing in Scotland. Developing smarter ways of working will be key in addressing this issue and I’m pleased that members of our Senior Leadership Team are represented on many of the key sectoral thought groups, including Homes for Scotland and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, which provides crucial industry links to harness and develop innovation.

I expect that housing delivery is also likely to diversify, with more emphasis on mixed and sustainable housing communities, includingcombinations of affordable, build to rent and private sale housing, along with multi-purpose commercial and retail space. The way that lockdown has impacted on many aspects of our lives will certainly give the housebuilding industry food for thought when planning future developments. Building multi-tenure sustainable communities is at the heart of the Cruden offering, and I believe that we are well placed to integrate new ways of thinking into this delivery.

Our homes have never been so important to us

Lockdown has intensified the importance of our own indoor and outdoor space and we’ve seen enhanced buyer interest for new homes. We’re seeing strong enquiry levels for forthcoming developments and appointments are being made for show homes re-opening.  We are seeing a growing appetite from buyers looking for outdoor space and, with greater emphasis on working from home, the office or spare room has never been so popular. Equally, the affordable homes that we build for registered social landlords may have different indoor and outdoor space requirements and it will be interesting to see how this filters into the planning system. Cruden has always had a strong focus on designing bespoke house types, so we’re well placed to continue to respond to the changing needs of our customers.

Staff are at the heart of our business

Throughout this crisis, I’ve been extremely proud of the way that our employees have been involved in a number of initiatives to support others, ranging from contributions of PPE to clients involved in the care of the elderly, to furloughed employees taking up voluntary positions to support the health service and wider community. As we begin our route back, protecting our employee health and wellbeing has never been so important. We’re taking additional care to ensure staff are fully supported as they adapt to the challenges resulting from the crisis and continue to play a crucial role in rebuilding the future of one of Scotland’s most essential industries.