Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, on how the pandemic has impacted diversity in the sector.
As the UK begins to come back to the workplace, there is masses of talk around the “new normal” and what that will look like.
Will it mean more time working from home? Will more of us cycle to work? Will real face-to-face meetings be a thing of the past?
It is, on many of the major issues, too early to say. However, I think the “new normal” in many professions will look more male.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that gender equality in the workplace may well take a step back several decades.
This is a bold statement for me, as I am an optimist, someone who has avoided women only organisations and believes that we all stand equal based on our results, but Covid-19 has changed my perspective.
We have surveyed all our staff – the majority of which are male – around the return to work and childcare, and asked if there is any reason that while the schools are not back that staff cannot return to work. The overwhelming response was no.
While that is great for us as a company, I would suggest that the response was driven by the fact that people’s female partners and wives are predominantly the ones who take responsibility for childcare.
As much as it should not be the case, I suspect that in a large majority of cases, the woman in a relationship has more responsibility for childcare, cooking and housework but also holds down a job.
That means that over the months of lockdown when childcare has not been easy to come by, women have had to make more of a compromise. That should not be the case, but it is and that cannot be right.
It is just one example of how Covid has magnified differences – differences between nations, differences between genders, differences between education systems, and it has only acted to highlight how much more there is to do to really bring equality in all aspects of life.
I have worked in property for 20 years now and the industry has definitely changed in terms of equality.
There is certainly a lot less alcohol than there used to be and that has made it much easier for women as a great deal of business was done in the bar after work or even on the golf course – and although I am rather fond of a round of sambucas I could never fit in a round of golf with raising two children!
Most of the changes which have been brought about, have come with the changing times and differing attitudes, but actually the recession played a part in that, as the extra-curricular activities were vastly reduced purely by financial necessity and life moved into coffee shops rather than bars.
Clients have also driven and shaped that change. As you get more investment, funds move further into property to increase their returns, it becomes more analytical and factual and less based on connections, and has meant it is more about what you know than who you know.
But, of course, there is so much more to do. I recently spoke at a secondary school in Coventry about the careers that are available in the property industry, but I still think that, as a sector, we are behind the likes of accountancy and law when it comes to attracting a wide range of young people into the industry.
There is certainly a great awareness in the industry of the need for more diversity, and that is not just in terms of gender or ethnicity, but also socio-economically. Take work experience – a great deal of placements are set up through contacts, and you could have real potential but without that network, it may not get the chance to be realised.
Not only is that morally wrong, it also means the industry is missing out on great talent. Some of the leading players have programmes which are addressing that, but lack of accessibility is a real issue.
Of course, everyone in business is focused around trying to keep companies going and people employed but it would be a tragedy if many of the advances in diversity are yet another victim of this wretched virus.
We have had a few planning consents emerging from the system in the last few weeks – all of which have been months in the making – covering a wide range of projects and geographies, and all are schemes that will help our pipeline of work as we navigate through these strange times.
Many planning committees are convening through video calls at the moment and we are beginning to see subtle changes, within the confines of established policy, which we believe are a result of the current crisis.
An example is our proposed scheme in Ledbury which will feature a community medical centre, locally-run children’s day nursery and a Lidl food store.
We are currently going through consultation and as part of that process we appeared at a Town Council meeting on Zoom. We felt there was far greater consideration than there would have been pre Covid-19 around the provision of local facilities alongside housing, and how developments and decisions could help limit travel times and help foster the community.
That has always been high up on the agenda of any Town or Parish Council, but we have noticed across different areas that there is a stronger emphasis than ever on providing for local people to ensure that they can get what they want and need within their own communities.
I think the current crisis has made authorities realise that you can’t just make one place busier and people can travel to, for example, the nearest retail development. The way we shop and way we live into the future is going to be considerably different.
We have found that people have taken on board that life has changed and that is not going to be for weeks, it is not going to be for months, we could be talking for the next few years.
It has been recognised that just because we have something now, which has worked up until this point, it is not necessarily going to be suitable or sustainable going into the future.
I think this will make Town and Parish Councils not only more relevant but also more powerful. There is a view – rightly or wrongly – that some councils do not want development whatever it is, or wherever it is but that approach will not work in the future.
Local councils know their communities better than anyone else and that level of knowledge is vital. We had a very good example last year in our dealings with Pillerton Priors Parish Council, where the members were very specific about the sort and variety of housing they felt would suit the community, and we adjusted our plans for The Meadows accordingly.
Obviously, there are agreed village plans which take precedence, but I think there is an acceptance that there is not enough affordable housing and it is not of the age or quality that is needed.
The current crisis has emphasised the importance of local family networks which can lend support when it is needed. It has as highlighted how having family close is a really great benefit for all and for a variety of reasons, and that living in the area you grew up in and having connections in your community can be very useful for everyone as it reduces the pressure on local service provision.
On a practical level, the session in Ledbury went very well and worked effectively. We have also had planning committees on Zoom, which are then broadcast through YouTube, and again that has worked without any issues.
There are, in fact, benefits in that I think it stops people talking too much and therefore makes the meetings more efficient!
Everyone is talking about the “new normal” and certainly in planning terms, we are seeing it develop with impacts in our industry, which, I believe, will only grow and hopefully bring increased benefits to the local communities in which we live and work.
Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, on how construction is adapting to a limited return to site working
There is no doubt that parts of the economy are beginning to show signs of life – but the tap is only being turned on very slowly.
I was on one of many recent video calls when someone said that as we end lockdown it will be a little like when you have had your boiler repaired. When you turn on tap it splutters as the pipes refill and takes a while for the flow to be resumed.
On the construction side of the Deeley Group, the announcement of lockdown and social distancing meant our tap was tightly turned off and we closed our 11 sites.
I fully appreciate that it is very difficult for Government to be clear and concise bearing in mind the myriad of unprecented measures they are bringing in at the moment but there was, at best, uncertainty as to what was essential working.
Also, the advice that work would continue also came with a heavy hint that there was little understanding as to how a site works and that did cause concern in the industry.
Slowly the sector got to grips with exactly how we could continue working to a level while strictly adhering to the social distancing rules. That has, inevitably, meant big changes in how we work.
For example, signing in is now by text rather than an electronic fingerprint system; canteens are closed; site times, break times and lunch times are staggered; we can only have 10-30 per cent of the number of people on site to allow for social distancing.
There have been struggles getting materials – especially plasterboard – and many of the builders’ merchants were closed until very recently. That is all easing and the supply of UK-produced goods is getting much better, but there will be times when we are held up by the absence of products such as lifts or air-conditioning units, which have to be imported.
Interestingly, in a world of sub-contractors, there has been a total regard for the health and wellbeing of staff, which has been refreshing to witness particularly when, at the same time, there were images from major construction projects where workers paying no attention to the guidance.
Sub-contractors are only coming back to sites where they are confident that social distancing can be maintained and, when it can’t, there is suitable PPE used by all.
But no-one should be under the impression that this means we are back to normal. Social distancing is likely to remain in place for many months to come and this means that the rate of construction is going to remain low because of the limited numbers on site.
As ever, industry is going to have to find a way to overcome the hurdle. We might need
to extend working hours as we have the longer evenings arriving, almost operating a two-shift system to maximise the number of working hours on site.
I think an increase in weekend working is almost inevitable, but that will not only allow us to maintain progress as much as possible but it will also allow sub-contractors to earn, which will very welcome after the last two months.
Equally inevitable will be increased costs because efficient sequencing of a build will not be possible given the restrictions in place and the equipment shortages.
There are also other more trivial, but still important, consequences. Spirit on a site is always important but with people working alone we simply cannot interact in the same way.
There is going to be part of our morale that is absent as we miss the joke that we don’t hear, and the catch up over a coffee during a break.
But that is a small price to pay.
Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, casts her eye over how the planning system is adjusting to life in lockdown
At a time when people have been panic buying shopping for toilet rolls, cutting their own hair and congregating for karaoke parties during the lockdown, it is refreshing – and indeed rare – to highlight the planning structure as a model of good sense.
Despite the tragic events which have crippled countries across the globe and robbed families of loved ones, other aspects of life have to try to operate as normal or at least adapt to the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised, for example, how quickly people have adjusted to working from home and meeting virtually.
It would have been all too easy for development and construction to grind to a total halt. While many of the aspects of the profession have been rendered impossible through restrictions, the Government flexing planning regulations has allowed a great deal of work to continue when otherwise it would have been forced to cease.
The change has allowed more planning matters to be agreed under delegated powers which means that there continues to be a flow of applications being processed.
As with all aspects of business during the lockdown period, precise preparation and clear communication are vital in ensuring officers have as full a picture as possible allowing them to be comfortable they are able to make the right decisions.
The changes to planning regulations have also given council’s certain freedoms to decide the best ways to operate within guidelines.
Planning meetings can, for example, be held remotely with members logging in over the internet or on the telephone. The location of a meeting can now be defined digitally such as a web address or video conference call rather than a physical place.
As long as committee members, officers and applicants can hear and be heard then a meeting can go ahead. Contributions from the members of the public if they are allowed to speak can be registered in advantage.
I wonder how many times committees would like to have had a “mute facility” at their disposal in real meetings!
Public consultations are, by their very nature, far harder to carry out during lockdown yet the Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service has urged local authorities to press on employing social media, interactive maps and online information, and utilising virtual groups through channels such as Facebook.
These are still early days relative to public consultations and there are more formal and structured elements to the process which may not be able to be conducted remotely, and there is talk of guidance being flexed to make that possible should this situation continue.
There are elements which have proved trickier to overcome. Some smaller councils do not have it within their constitution to make decisions without a physical meeting while traffic counts – a key factor in planning applications and consents – are impossible to measure when we are restricted to essential journeys only.
Again, if lockdown continues then the system will have to adapt and research has shown that more than three quarters of councillors are behind the process continuing virtually until the crisis is behind us.
What this dreadful time has shown is that, when the pressure is on and needs must, the planning system, which at times seems massively inflexible, can be shaped and moulded to mutual benefit.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that spirit of understanding and mutual working continued long after this horrible period is over?
In our latest blog, Elaine Freeman, designer at top interiors specialists Open Door Interiors, discusses the inspiration behind the interior design for the Deeley Homes development, The Meadows at Pillerton Priors.
When we were first outlining the interior design for the show home, the first elements to consider were the location and the stunning surrounding countryside which plays a key role in making The Meadows so impressive.
The colours, textures and patterns we picked were designed to bring in certain aspects of the surrounding landscape into the rooms, with rich emerald greens used to achieve a contemporary yet classic look.
This is particularly true of the wallpaper featured in the study – the emerald green uses a stunning crocodile effect to create a sense of depth and texture to ensure the room comes with an atmosphere which is conducive to home working.
We have featured bold elements throughout the property, with striking brass touches and natural-wash woods to contrast with a more elegant feel in the entrance hall and staircase.
The natural colours of the wash-wood creates a real sense of bringing the countryside to the interior and, in pairing it with a smart edge to the finishing lines of the rooms, it creates a very classic look, with a more modern and up-to-date twist without it being a slave to fashion.
The properties feel very ‘on-trend’ with the use of funky, bold colours that create a strong impact and are weaved throughout the homes, even through to the guest bathroom and hallway.
One of my favourite aspects of our work at The Meadows is the use of fabric wallpaper, which is becoming more popular as a simple, yet effective, way to really make a statement when decorating.
The velvet wall fabric used here evokes a more natural look and creates a sense of elegance for the property, adding a slightly more feminine touch to the décor.
The homes at The Meadows are finished to a high specification, using the best local materials with views across the stunning open countryside, which to us, was an aspect of each home that we really wanted to emphasise in the design.
For more information on The Meadows, Pillerton Priors, visit: https://www.themeadowspillerton.co.uk/
This has been another successful year for the Deeley Group with – we hope – some good news just around the corner in 2020.
We have developed a strong pipeline of work through Deeley Construction with a number of wins and we believe we are well placed for that to continue over the next 12 months, whatever might be on the political horizon!
A great deal of thanks should go to Martin Gallagher and his team who have taken Construction from strength to strength.
Deeley Homes has been revitalised and is extremely busy. The division successfully launched its first development for a number of years – The Meadows at Pillerton Priors – and it is selling very well.
Moreton Edge, in the heart of Moreton-in-Marsh, will launch next year and we are confident it will prove just as popular.
We were joined by Eleanor Deeley in the autumn not only bringing 20 years of national property experience but also ensuring the guiding principles of the company are maintained.
As the year draws to a close, we heard that Fordham House, which we developed and built in partnership with Orbit, has won a second national award, while Deeley Construction has been appointed to the University of Warwick’s Lot 1 Capital Programme Framework for projects up to the value of £2 million over the next five years across the site, as one of only three Tier 1 contractors.
I would like to thank all our clients, partners and colleagues for all the work and co-operation and wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Peter Deeley, Managing Director
The strength of the manufacturing and industrial sector across the country has seen a Coventry construction company land £11 million worth of contracts.
Deeley Construction is working on more than 135,000 sq. ft. of much needed employment space at four new, bespoke industrial developments at locations across Coventry, Warwickshire, Rutland and Buckinghamshire.
They range from design-and-build projects for owner/occupiers through to speculative builds on behalf of developers.
The company is working with AC Lloyd at Kites Park in Princes Risborough on the creation of a £5.4 million scheme to create in total nearly 70,000 sq. ft. of warehouse & office space.
Deeley Construction is also on-site on a workshop unit in Water Orton in North Warwickshire on behalf of Flexdart Ltd, which has seen the demolition of existing buildings and the creation of a new 19,485 sq. ft. unit.
Flexdart is traditionally a scrap metal merchant which is branching out into property development and selected Deeley Construction thanks to the firm’s agility and flexibility to deliver the project.
Deeley is working for Mecc Alte (UK) directly on its new £2.9 million design-and-build industrial unit in Oakham, Rutland and also on a £1.4 million scheme of workshop units to expand the Loades Ecoparc in Coventry.
In each area, the firm is utilising the local labour force which has a positive knock-on effect for the local community and economy.
Peter Deeley, Managing Director of the Deeley Group, said the company is perfectly placed to deliver new industrial and warehouse units as that area of the economy continues to grow.
He said: “The feeling is that there is still a shortage of industrial and warehouse space in this region and further afield to meet the demand of SME’s who wish to expand their operations.
“We fit into a niche category of providing the construction of sub 50,000 sq. ft. units which enables these businesses to grow.
“Deeley Construction has landed this work thanks to the reliability and integrity of the team both through an active tendering process and negotiated contracts.
“Our aim is to be more than a contractor and to become a partner on any given project. As a group, we also have the ability to bring land and build package deals to any interested parties.
“That is one of the reasons we were successful in landing these contracts and it’s certainly a very positive area of business for the company.”
A Coventry construction company has continued its commitment to bringing forward the next generation of talent in the industry.
Deeley Construction, which is based at George House at Coventry Business Park, has taken on three new apprentices to assist with the firm’s continued growth.
Charlie Stevens and Matt Byrne are both management trainees with the company and Katie-May Cashmore is a trainee accounts assistant.
Charlie is undertaking a Construction Management Degree at Birmingham City University, while Matt is studying for a BTEC Diploma in Construction Level 3 at South & City College Birmingham. Katie-May is completing an AAT Diploma Level 2 at Coventry College City Campus.
The trio continue a long-held tradition at Deeley Construction of growing its own workforce with almost 20 per cent of the company’s staff coming through the firm as an apprentice.
It’s a proud record that includes managing director Martin Gallagher, who welcomed Charlie, Matt and Katie-May to the company.
Martin said: “The skills shortage in construction is one of the biggest issues facing our industry but here at Deeley Construction we have always seen apprenticeships as a great route to growing our own and the industry’s future workforce.
“I know only too well the benefits of being an apprentice having started my career as one. It gave me the opportunity to work my way up through the business to the point where I am now able to give others the same chance I had.
“It’s great that Charlie, Matt and Katie-May want to develop a career in construction and also highlights that there are many roles in our sector from being out on-site through to being based in the office.
“As a company, we continue to grow and the addition of three new apprentices is a perfect way for us to start looking ahead to 2018.”
Pictured (left to right): Charlie Stevens, Katie-May Cashmore, Martin Gallagher, Matt Byrne