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Cavanna Homes Invests in Artisan Bricklayer

Traditional, handcrafted building styles have made way for more cost-effective and less time-consuming modern-day methods as the homebuilding industry works hard to deliver the government’s ambitious target of 300,000 new builds each year. In the Westcountry however, fourth-generation family firm Cavanna Homes is investing in the skills of an artisan

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BDC 318 : Jul 2024

bricklayer

Cavanna Homes Invests in Artisan Bricklayer

Traditional, handcrafted building styles have made way for more cost-effective and less time-consuming modern-day methods as the homebuilding industry works hard to deliver the government’s ambitious target of 300,000 new builds each year. In the Westcountry however, fourth-generation family firm Cavanna Homes is investing in the skills of an artisan bricklayer to help define the character of its homes and developments, in turn, helping to keep the ancient craft of stonemasonry alive. Born and bred in the South Hams, Terry Newman currently spends his three-day working week as a subcontractor for West Country Brickworks Ltd on projects for Cavanna Homes, which has its headquarters in Torquay and is in its 96th year. Cavanna Homes incorporates stonemasonry in its developments to reflect a local vernacular and to make a new scheme look more mature so it immediately fits into its existing surroundings. Work incorporating traditional stonemasonry skills is intricate and time consuming: a three-metre stone panel takes around a day to build, while the same sized panel in bricks takes half-a-day, or a couple of hours for concrete blocks, plus wet weather can prolong a job involving stone work because the materials must be kept dry. “Nowadays, time and cost are big factors in the house building industry,” says bricklayer Terry. “So if a developer includes stonemasonry in its schemes, they’re adding time, and time is money! I take my hat off to those firms including stonework at their new developments; it not only adds character and charm to modern buildings but it’s keeping the tradition alive.” Terry trained as a bricklayer at South Devon College in the late 1970s when stonemasonry was included in the course, completing an apprenticeship with a local firm which “happened” to include stonemasonry in its remit. Nowadays, there are no colleges offering stonemasonry courses west of Bath and Weymouth, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a construction or bricklaying course which offers even a hint of stonemasonry. But Terry has used the skills of his industry’s forefathers ever since his teens. At Cavanna’s Dartington developments, Origins and Yarners Mill, Terry created stone walls and panels to add historic charm to the homes in-keeping with their position in the picturesque Dart Valley, and one of his most recent tasks has been the construction of a 30-metre wall at the entrance of Cavanna @ Wolborough Hill – a collection of 26 luxury-style homes in Newton Abbot – to replace the original wall. Also on his immediate list of pending jobs is replacing the coping (the top of a wall which acts like a lid, keeping the rain out) at Palstone Meadow – Cavanna’s 26-home development in South Brent – and building a wall at Kings Orchard – Cavanna’s emerging 53-home scheme in Stoke Gabriel. Traditionally, stone doesn’t tend to travel very far after it’s excavated, so where the job is determines what type of stone Terry works with. “In Cornwall it’s always shillet which is quarried there and has been used for building for centuries,” he says. “And in South Devon I often work with Stoneycombe, Glendinnings, Yennadon and Mill Hill Quarries stone, excavated on the doorstep.” Type “stonemasonry” into Google and you’ll find numerous glossaries explaining the terminology, which is often linked to the geography as well as the stones themselves. Take the style of the coping at the wall at Cavanna @ Wolborough for example. Bricklayer Terry describes it as “cock and hen” (where vertically placed stones run along the top of a wall). “I don’t know why it’s called cock and hen,” laughs Terry. “That’s what we call it down in the Westcountry.” Elsewhere, it’s known as “buck and doe”. Terry also describes using a method called “snail creep pointing” on the walls at his son’s house in Ivybridge. The effect can be achieved by using the handle of a metal watering can, cut in half. “It looks lovely when it’s finished,” Terry says, offering an insight into the intricacies of his craft, which includes being resourceful. Around a century ago it was typical for stonemasons to wade into rivers to collect stones. In the 90s, at a private residence in the South Hams, Terry found himself thigh-deep in a river which ran through the grounds, collecting stones to make sure the buttress he was building blended with the existing structure. Terry explains that stone can either be left in its natural state, known as rustic stone, or can be cut, so the face of the stone (the part which faces out, forming the side of the wall) has a smoother finish. Terry prefers the former and describes working with “random rubble”, the technical term for a mixture of different sized and shaped stones, which makes his job rather like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle. Stonemasonry involves a huge variety of different styles and techniques and there is also far more to the pointing (or jointing) work (the joining together of the stones) than merely cementing between bricks. “At Origins I had to keep the jointing quite flush and create an indent of about half-an-inch between the stones,” he explains. “So instead of the surface being flat, the stones protrude a little. Usually the style will be down to the architects who designed the buildings, although often it will be the site manager who decides the finish.” For the wall at Cavanna @ Wolborough, bricklayer Terry said his biggest challenge was finding stones with “good faces”. “With slate or shillet you’ll use a larger quantity of stone but because of their shape it’s almost like stacking them on top of one another, whereas with random rubble a lot goes to waste because you have to have stones with good faces and which sit up well to create a wall with them. Although sometimes they won’t do either!” Although building in stone can be costly and slows down the build process, when completed to a high standard it gives a far higher quality finish.

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Story Homes welcomes its first female bricklayer as part of new apprentice intake

Housebuilder Story Homes has welcomed seven apprentices as part of its ongoing commitment to investing in and developing young talent, with this year’s cohort including the developer’s first female bricklaying apprentice. The new bricklaying, joinery and technical apprentices will work across Story Homes’ key regions of Cumbria and Scotland, the North West and the North East. The new recruits were selected at an apprentice assessment centre earlier this year, beating tough competition from a number of high quality applicants. The recruitment of Chloe Bland, 22, is an important step for Story Homes in encouraging more females to apply for roles on its construction sites. Chloe, who has completed her Level 1 qualification in Bricklaying, commented: “Bricklaying runs in my family so I have wanted to follow this career path for as long as I can remember. I studied Health and Social Care at college and I considered professions such as hairdressing, but I just couldn’t imagine working long-term in a role that didn’t involve being hands-on out on site. “I find the concept of a bare plot of land being transformed into a beautiful home absolutely fascinating and I take a real sense of pride in being part of that journey. In future I hope I can progress my career with Story Homes, with the ultimate ambition of becoming a trainee site manager and even a site manager one day.” Story Homes’ apprenticeship scheme forms a key part of its strategy to ensure it can achieve its future plans, as well as making a contribution towards closing the growing skills gap in the housebuilding industry. The developer’s Aspire Apprenticeship Scheme, which launched in 2016, aims to recruit the brightest and most passionate school and college leavers from 16 years and upwards. Apprentices undertake a full development programme which includes working towards an NVQ Level 2 or Level 3, on-the-job training and the potential to move into trainee site management at the end of the programme. Before beginning their roles on-site and in the office, the apprentices completed a five-day residential team building and induction programme, aimed at building their confidence and problem-solving skills from the outset. Fred Story, chairman and CEO of Story Homes, said: “Our apprenticeship scheme has proved successful over the years, with a number of people recruited now in more senior roles. Bringing future talent into the business is very important to us so I am pleased to welcome our seven new apprentices. I look forward to seeing them working with their teams, developing their skills and contributing to our mission to design and build quality homes that people aspire to live in.”

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Two-thirds of construction bosses can’t find a bricky or chippy, says FMB

Two-thirds of those running small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms are struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters ( Bricky and Chippy )as construction skills shortages hit a ‘record high’, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Key results from the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey, which is the only quarterly assessment of the UK-wide SME construction sector, include: More than two-thirds (68%) of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners – the highest figures since records began in 2008; The number of firms reporting difficulties hiring plumbers and electricians (48%), plasterers (46%) and floorers (30%) also reached record highs; Construction SME workloads grew at a slightly slower rate than in Q3 2017, but new enquiries and expected workloads slowed more sharply; expected workloads among those firms building new homes showed a negative net balance for the first time since 2013; Fewer construction SMEs predict rising workloads in the coming three months, down from 41% in the previous quarter to 38% in Q4 2017; 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months, up from 82% in the previous quarter; Nearly two-thirds (61%) of construction SMEs expect salaries and wages to increase in the next six months. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Skills shortages are sky rocketing and it begs the question, who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for. The Government has set itself an ambitious target to build 300,000 homes every year in England alone. More than two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers which is one of the key trades in the building industry. This has increased by nearly 10% in just three months which points to a rapid worsening of an already dire situation. What’s more, nearly as many are facing difficulties hiring carpenters and joiners. These figures are the highest we’ve noted since records began a decade ago. As a result, the wages for these increasingly scarce skilled tradespeople continue to rise sharply; that’s a simple consequence of supply and demand. This, coupled with the fact that small construction firms continue to face significant material price increases, will inevitably squeeze their margins and put a brake on growth.” Berry continued: “The Government must take account of the worsening construction skills shortage with Brexit looming large on the horizon. The Prime Minister must ensure that the immigration system that replaces the free movement of people can take account of the particular needs of key sectors such as construction and house building. Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse, and it is not in anyone’s best interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system. On the domestic front and in the longer term, to ensure we have an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, the Government must continue to work with industry to set the right framework in terms of T-Levels and apprenticeships.” Berry concluded: “The silver lining to current skills shortages among construction SMEs is that the numerous tradespeople and professionals, who may find themselves out of work following the collapse of Carillion, have a ready supply of alternative employers. The FMB is working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Construction Industry Training Board to match-make ex-Carillion workers with small construction employers in need of skilled workers. We’re also working hard as an industry to re-home the 1,200 Carillion apprentices who are the innocent victims of the major contractor’s demise. It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that these young people continue on their path to a rewarding career in construction.”

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