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  • Martin Gallagher

    Blog: Family ethos and investing in our future

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  • Blog: Looking at our history to drive our future

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  • A challenging but successful year

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  • Eleanor Deeley

    Christmas restrictions lift could have drastic consequences

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  • Has Covid-19 made the future look more male?

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  • Positive power of localism in the wake of Covid-19

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  • Blog: How construction is adapting to a limited return to site working

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  • Blog: The planning system during lock down….

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Blog: Family ethos and investing in our future

The Deeley Group is proud to be a family-owned firm – but in many ways the family ethos spreads way beyond those who share the name Deeley.

The company has always been a strong believer in breeding its own workforce through apprenticeships and training and it is a policy which has served the company extremely well through the years and continues to do so.

I should know. I started with the firm in 1988 (when I was, obviously, very young!) straight from school. I had not done as well as I wanted in my A Levels so therefore did not go straight to university but joined Deeley as I wanted to be a quantity surveyor.

I could not have made a better decision. In the intervening years I studied for my ONC in Building Studies at Coventry College and then my HNC at Coventry University before doing a degree in Quantity Surveying at what was then the University of Central England.

I then went on to earn my professional qualifications MRICS and MCIOB to complete my training.

Through all that time I was working at Deeley, gaining hands-on practical experience that, for me, made learning the theory so much more relatable.

I am not alone. Around 25 per cent of our workforce has been taken on through an apprenticeship or trainee programme. We find that it allows us to teach them the “Deeley Way” helping to shape what they learn to not only give them a thorough grounding but to also improve our all-round capability.

Our colleagues also enjoy working with younger people and passing on the skills they have learned while working for us, while apprentices tend to stay longer with an employer than other staff.

Currently 15 per cent of Deeley Group’s employees are in an apprenticeship or undergoing further learning programmes, so it is a trend which continues and impacts positively on every part of the group’s operations.

We currently have trainees on site, in accounts, and in marketing, while several of our senior team have come through the ranks after starting as trainees.

Even last year in the depths of the pandemic we took the bold step to recruit two new management trainees having previously engaged with their school and offering them work experience the year before. Only today, I have had a Teams meeting with Jack and Tom to review their progress – it so encouraging to see their passion to learn and progress through the company and it took me back to 1988!!

February 8 sees the start of National Apprenticeship Week, and while activities will be limited by Covid restrictions, it an important initiative – important for young people to realise what an apprenticeship or traineeship can lead to, and important for companies to tap into the rich vein of potential talent which can serve them well.

By Martin Gallagher, Managing Director, Deeley Construction

Blog: Looking at our history to drive our future

The Deeley Group is celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2021 – so it is naturally a time to take stock of our history but also very much look forward to what is an exciting future.

There have – just in the last 15 years never mind the previous 85 – been huge advances in the property industry, be that in construction methods, health and safety, procurement or communications. The list is endless.

Yet, while Deeley has embraced all that change and very much been an early adopter of new initiatives, we are still underpinned by the values passed on from my father: integrity, partnership, community, respect and agility.

Those are all very important elements of what has helped the company thrive. There is no question that agility has proved to be vital in our continued success. We cannot simply create a market, but we can follow one, and we can shape one and I think our history shows that we have done that successfully.

In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, we embraced the expansion of the comprehensive school system and constructed three of the major schools in Coventry and continue to work across primary and secondary education.

But in recent years, we have worked on numerous projects for universities as Higher Education has gone through a similar expansion, gaining an insight to customer needs, keeping ahead of trends and constantly developing our expertise.

Presently we are very strong in the construction and creation of care homes and once again we have developed a significant knowledge and understanding of the sector meaning we are very much partners of our clients.

My father became renowned in the late 1930s and 1940s for building the best air raid shelters in Coventry – he certainly didn’t create that market, but he responded to it!

All of those values I mention also come down to people – and I know that the quality of the team we have always had at Deeley, has been a key to our success.

We work in partnership with other firms of all industry disciplines, and, more often than not, they are on-going relationships many of which stretch back decades. That does not happen without people with integrity and ability.

Deeley has always believed in nurturing talent and that has helped us instil these values over decades. Seeing people develop through every level of the business over the years is a record of unending pride.

Martin – the MD of Deeley Construction – started with us as a trainee straight out of education and now leads a major part of the business. Eleanor – our deputy MD of the Deeley Group – used to open the post on a Saturday morning as an eight-year-old (not that she had much of a choice!).

There are countless examples throughout every sphere of our operations, and it is a major factor in our success.

Like all firms in property and construction, we have had our dark periods, but the quality of our people, the agility we have shown along with our reputation and our professional abilities have seen us through.

They are also the reason why we have responded so well during these dreadful times, to keep working, keep our projects on track and keep our customers satisfied.

Without exception, the Deeley team has embraced the enforced changes and reacted magnificently – and I thank every colleague for that.

So, while reaching our 85th anniversary is a milestone and one to celebrate, we look back only to reflect on qualities which have helped us thrive – and to ensure they will continue to drive the Deeley Group to a successful future.

A challenging but successful year

This has been a challenging year for everyone – and certainly not one we could have anticipated 12 months ago.

I have been at Deeley for more than half a century and I have never experienced anything similar to what we have all been through in 2020 and what is likely to continue well into 2021.

The success of the Deeley Group over the last 84 years has been built on the high-quality team we have in the business and the great companies and people we work with, and never has that been more evident than this year.

We have, across all our spheres of operation, adapted to the very necessary restrictions placed on us because of the pandemic and that has allowed us to keep delivering and keep driving forward.

That has been true on site and in our offices. Those out on site have ensured that social distancing and other measures have been adhered to while still working on our projects, while many of our office staff seamlessly flipped to working from home.

Those working arrangements changed according to the severity of lockdowns and, as we approach the end of the year, we are nowhere near back to normal working.

The year has seen us work on a massively wide range of projects from private housing to care homes, from university faculties to retail units, and from coffee drive-throughs to advanced technology car-parks.

We have continued to support our local communities – for example the Starley Sportive which we co-host raised almost £10,000 despite not taking place!

I would therefore like to thank everyone – internal staff and external partners – for helping us all get through 2020 in such good shape.

Next year is a big one for us – it’s our 85th anniversary – and for Coventry, with the UK City of Culture starting in May.

However, the main priority is that we all stay safe and healthy so I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Peter Deeley, Managing Director

Christmas restrictions lift could have drastic consequences

Like everyone else in England, we are in the middle of a lockdown.

Our movements are restricted, our offices are closed – save for a few essential staff for whom working from home is not an option – and all meetings have moved online once more.

We are able to continue work on our construction sites and are, in many ways, in a fortunate position compared to many other industries such as tourism and leisure.

There is, however, no question that it makes things more challenging.

Starting new jobs is incredibly hard as there is so much information that has to be passed on. Then there are factors such as how you induct new staff members and the list goes on and on.

It is like walking through treacle, everything is harder and everything requires more effort.

But we fully understand why the lockdown was re-introduced after the loosening of restrictions brought the much-anticipated second wave and we know we have to slow the spread of the virus and allow the NHS to be able to cope.

However, to then read that the Government are planning a temporary U-turn over Christmas for a period of around five days with multiple households mixing, really does get me quite upset and angry.

That could, according to reports, mean another lockdown of 20 days. The Government are measuring things in terms of lockdown days rather than the cost both in human terms and also damage to the economy – an economy which is already in a highly precarious state.

The explanations seem almost nonchalant – “Oh, we will have another 20 days of lockdown.” It is as if they haven’t assessed the impacts of those five days of fun

We have seen numbers rising in terms of suicide rates and most people will be able to tell you a story of someone they know, or a friend of a friend who has committed suicide this year which is devastating.

The idea that it is worth being locked down for a month for the sake of just five days, just seems absurd.

It also seems rather right wing that the Government is prepared to sacrifice lives, the future of some businesses, many jobs and the health of the economy for an element of society to celebrate Christmas when Eid was cancelled with a day’s notice and Diwali severely restrict.

It doesn’t seem appropriate to say that this one Christian celebration is worth all of this damage – you start to wonder if that is a very Christian thing to do.

The motive just seems to be to placate the population by saying we can celebrate Christmas without explaining the factual consequences. I cannot decide whether the Government feels that the population is incapable of digesting the implications or whether they have not assessed what the implication of Festive fun would be for the nation both economically and for the NHS.

People are working so hard to keep business and families afloat and the idea you can just abandon the rules with no logical and explainable reason is total nonsense, and actually goes totally against the mantra the Government have been preaching as vital for so long.

It smacks totally of populism – but it is populism with a deathly consequence.

By Eleanor Deeley

Has Covid-19 made the future look more male?

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.

Positive power of localism in the wake of Covid-19

 

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.

Blog: How construction is adapting to a limited return to site working

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.

Blog: The planning system during lock down….

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?