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Building a safer and more sustainable future of construction

Gill Kelleher joined the Construction Innovation Hub as Impact Director in June. In her first Hub blog article, Gill tells us what it’s been like taking up her new role in the middle of lockdown and outlines her priorities for the months ahead.

It has certainly been an interesting time to start a new role. Instead of getting to know my colleagues over coffee in the work canteen, I’m learning faces and names through a screen, trying out exotic backgrounds to break the ice on video calls. Working from home hasn’t quite been the peaceful experience that I recall from pre-lockdown days either. As our household navigates work, education and family life under one roof, at times it’s felt like a real-life version of the Young Ones! Of course, there have been positive aspects; for one my carbon footprint has massively reduced since I’m no longer reliant on long-distance train travel. Overall, it’s been an exciting and positive start to my new role, as I get to grips with my part to play in the Hub’s mission to transform UK construction.

Evidently, the last few months have required us all to make compulsory shifts in our behaviours – to assess what we can do differently in this time of crisis. Yet even prior to the pandemic, a sense of urgency was growing around the need to consider the impact of our actions at both an individual and industrial level. From Greta Thunberg’s inspiring leadership to David Attenborough’s stark messages, our collective awareness of environmental issues has never been more pronounced. Particularly for construction, the laser focus on improving the long-term societal and environmental impacts of our sector is sharpening every day.

Speeding up the journey of transformation

At the heart of the Hub’s mission is the delivery of buildings that are greener and safer, built faster and to a higher quality. Through our four core themes of Value, Manufacturing, Assurance and Digital, the Hub’s purpose is to transform the UK’s construction sector through digital and advanced manufacturing technologies, in turn driving a path towards Net Zero.

Our transformative programme, born out of the Construction Sector Deal in 2018 – now finds itself playing an unexpected, but crucial role in delivering a sustainable recovery in the wake of the global COVID crisis. Over recent months, we have accelerated key elements of the Hub programme to ensure that recovery, when it comes, is grounded firmly in new and better ways of doing things. One such example is our recently launched Value Toolkit which has been developed by my Hub colleague Ron Lang in close collaboration with industry partners. A suite of four new tools designed to support value-based decision-making throughout an investment lifecycle, the Toolkit has strong backing from industry and Government alike. The workstream I lead will, over the coming months, supports the journey towards value-based procurement by ensuring that safety requirements are not compromised for cost reduction and that proposed solutions produce safe building outcomes. We will assess and ensure that new subassemblies are delivering the value that is required of them.

Our ongoing work with leading government departments (Health, Justice, Education, Defence and Transport) brings this to life, as we support them in their adoption of the Transforming Infrastructure Performance presumption in favour of offsite. To maximise the £65billion we spend each year across economic and social infrastructure projects, we must ensure that new buildings are delivered in the most robust and sustainable way, particularly as we navigate the economic challenges that the pandemic has presented. In turn, we are staying in close contact with the housing sector and major infrastructure projects, helping to convey this learning to other build types around the sector.

Helping embed a culture of best practice

Broadly speaking, my assurance workstream is all about championing this rigorous culture of safety and compliance within the construction industry. We will focus on helping the sector learn from best practice and research, whilst implementing tools and services to adopt the new approach to whole-life value. Moving towards offsite construction presents a real opportunity to embed new skills and innovation in the sector, easing some serious issues such as waste, safety and the skills shortage.

As offsite evolves, construction needs to have confidence that the new components, assemblies and assets are consistently safe in creation and use. Aligning with the Hub’s manufacturing theme, led by Trudi Sully, in particular our flagship Platform Design Programme, we will ensure that new platform solutions can be demonstrated to comply with regulations and standards by carrying out both physical and digital testing of multi-component and 3D assemblies.

Following industry recommendations from the Hackitt Review, we will support industry to deliver regulatory reforms by developing new digital approaches to quality control, testing and validation, and regulatory compliance. A key priority for the Hub under the assurance theme is guaranteeing that new assets developed for platform solutions are built to consistently safe and robust standards. To achieve this, we are creating advanced quality assurances processes which will support the sector during concept generation, design, manufacture, testing, validation and though-life monitoring of products.

For example, digital transformation has a vital part to play in the journey of evolving construction and improving productivity. Assurance will work closely with the Hub’s digital workstream led by my colleague Dave Philp to advance a standard approach to data and develop new digital approaches to quality control, testing and validation. Standards, product data and architectures will be developed and made available to ensure that data, design and product information can be managed in a way that minimises security risks. We will also support the delivery of the Golden Thread of building information – a vital requirement of building safety legislation, working with industry to overcome challenges around adopting the Golden Thread.

Moving towards a ‘Zero Defects’ culture

As I write, we are coming to the end of an extensive industry consultation on how to drive a ‘zero-defects’ culture across the supply chain through Construction Quality Planning (CQP). Built on tried-and-tested approaches used in the manufacturing industries, CQP is designed to support innovative products being brought to market by offsite construction firms and ensure they conform to the fit, form and function required by industry.  CQP will deliver a standardised process for the construction industry to measure quality data and outputs, opening the door to future accreditation schemes to further instil confidence in offsite products. Over the summer we have been consulting with organisations across the manufacturing and construction industries to understand how CQP could work in practice.

A greener, safer future for construction

As human beings, we’ve all experienced massive change in recent months. Change to how we live our lives, change to how we work and even change to how we interact with our friends and loved ones. As a sector, construction too has had to implement major changes and there will be many more to follow, both directly as a result of COVID, but also for the reasons I’ve outlined above. In my new role as Impact Director, my priority is to partner with industry to cultivate and embed a safe and resilient future for construction through the recovery period and beyond.

Our transformative journey is, and always has been, a partnership. The Hub is here to act as the catalyst for change, but we can’t deliver that change alone. I’ve no doubt that the road will be a challenging one, but the destination – a future where our schools and hospitals are among the world’s safest and greenest, fills me with excitement and optimism.


Gill Kelleher is the Impact Director for the Construction Innovation Hub.