As a Premier Guarantee customer, you will be familiar with the technical support and guidance you receive from our risk management surveyors.
But aside from training and qualifications, where does their knowledge and experience come from?
It also comes from the insights they gain from the other sites they inspect on a daily basis.
So leave your site office for a moment and follow Premier Guarantee surveyor Gwion Jones as he visits three sites on a sunny morning in Wales.
It’s an early start for Gwion, whose North Wales area stretches from Anglesey in the west to Wrexham in the east. After checking urgent emails, he’s heading for a 25-unit site in Wrexham.
Constructed by Wrexham-based Castlemead Group on behalf of Wales and West Housing Association, the Jacques Way site already has near-complete units with foundations going in for more, including a four-bedroom building for disadvantaged people.
So far, so straightforward. But the former car scrapyard site sits between two railway lines, each with considerable embankments down to the tracks. Retaining walls have been built and all the site’s foundations are piled.
Shown above: Images from Jacques Way, Wrexham, by Castlemead Homes. The site sits between two in-use railway lines with steep embankments
It’s the foundations we’re admiring on this fine winter’s day. Gwion discusses progress with site manager Nick Jones as we take a look around the site, including the near-complete timber frame homes.
Back at the site office we catch up with Castlemead Construction Director Eric Bray. His description of the developer’s history may chime with many others – they moved away from speculative housebuilding following the financial crash of 2007/2008 but are exploring this again.
Fortunately, Castlemead also specialises in building medical facilities and later living schemes, so the order book has remained healthy. Now, housebuilding takes place through contracts, mostly from housing associations.
Castlemead originally intended to speculatively build on the Jacques Way site it owned. Instead it sold part to Whitbread for a Premier Inn and is developing the remaining land for social housing via a housing association build contract.
Eric’s description of issues mostly caused by the pandemic will also resonate with many housebuilders. “It’s the hold ups, and that can throw things out of order,” he says. “House work has been happening before road and sewer work, which is not the best way to do it. It doesn’t affect the quality of what we do but it has an impact on logistics. Then there’s the restrictions we’ve faced on material and sub-contractors supplies. But you’ll still see a good job being done.
“Gwion is excellent on construction, it’s the knowledge he brings that’s really valuable. It’s the knowledge I enjoy. I retired a few years ago (Eric was a CIOB Fellow), came back for a few weeks and I’m still here!”
With his SME background recalling a time when workers needed to be able to turn their hand to multiple roles and tasks, Eric puts great value in the power of word-of-mouth and final presentation.
“The secret is getting it right, spending time to get it right, and knowing how important presentation and curb appeal is,” he says. “We will triple-snag the house, look in places even the owner wouldn’t think of looking. Could be something that I find or Gwion finds.
“The industry has a poor image on TV but what you need at the end of the day is someone telling someone in a pub, “Go and buy a Castlemead home.” The word gets out. That’s the satisfying part of this job, but it’s not easy.”
From Wrexham we head to a new site at ground investigation stage near the market town of Mold. This will be a 54-unit development on a residential infill plot with a gulley running through it, which may present a few technical challenges later on. There’s nothing much else to see here for now, but Gwion is already taking an interest in its progress – he will back again soon enough.
We then head west to Rhyl where local developers NWPS Construction have won a social housing contract with Cartrefi Conwy Housing Association to build a block of 18 units on the site of a derelict dairy near the centre of town.
The casual observer wouldn’t realise how complex this project is. The piled building is steel frame up to a concrete first floor deck, then timber frame above that. Two sets of structural engineers have worked on the project, tackling differential settlement and disproportionate collapse. Masonry stairwells add to the need to have the engineering details worked through to the smallest detail. NWPS Site Construction Manager Brian Madden is only half-joking when he says, “Once we’ve built this, we’ll be able to build anything.”
Shown above: The Victoria Road site by NWPS Construction for Cartrefi Conwy Housing Association. Steel structure to a concrete first floor deck, then timber frame.
Gwion points out how differential settlement has to be allowed for as we tour the site and head up to the roof, from where there’s an impressive view to the Clwydian hills. He checks additional braces have been added since his last visit and notes them on his handheld device, instantly recording that progress has been made.
“Gwion has done very well for us,” Brian notes back in the site office. “He has picked up a few things that were missed by others and we’ve got round them all.
“He is a knowledgeable guy. There hasn’t been a lot wrong to be fair but he has picked up some things and so it’s really good to have him on board. I’ve only worked with Premier Guarantee: it’s a great help. If I come across any issues I’m not sure of, Gwion is there as a helping hand with advice.”
Gwion’s construction career is about as comprehensive as it gets. He left school to become a joiner creating and installing kitchens, windows and doors. He turned his hand to bricklaying, working on new builds, extensions and barn conversions, before becoming Clerk of Works for the local authority. He was a maintenance office for a housing association for five years before he joined Gwynedd Council’s building control team.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the variation in the role that Gwion loves. “You never know what you are going to find. It’s problem solving and the satisfaction that someone’s going to get a really solid building at the end of it. It’s challenging at times, for sure, but I enjoy it.
“I get up early, I like to start early and I’m used to it. I check my emails. I know where I need to go and where I live I usually have some travelling to do, so I need to factor that in. I carry out site inspections depending on which stage the site is up to. When I get back I’ve got lots of tasks – answering queries on using products or materials, for example, or checking up on some technical designs after something you’ve seen. If we’re signing off plots there will be some paperwork, issuing cover notes and so on.”
Even with his extensive construction background, Gwion made plenty of use of Premier Guarantee’s technical support team when he first joined. “Warranty is very different from building control,” he says. “Your focus is drawn to different things and you’re thinking more about the long-term risks. But I’ve learned so much. Now I can usually answer the questions myself and if I can’t I can always ask my manager or then the technical team.
“The support here is fantastic. I’ve taken courses on everything from flat roofs to basements, piles to raft foundations, and the Technical Manual is really handy.”
Gwion says he gets to meet plenty of interesting people, from site managers to labourers and groundworkers. And his approach to tackling issues is more collaborative than instruction. “I like to discuss things rather than say it should be like this or that. I don’t want to just say, “it doesn’t say this in the book.” I’d rather explain that if you do this, this will happen, and if you do that, that will happen.”
And with that, it’s time for Gwion to move onto his next site. Even spending just half a day with Premier Guarantee’s risk management surveyor for this part of the world has shown how construction details and challenges vary from site to site, and even from plot to plot.
That homes may last 100 years or more makes the work that goes into their construction all the more impressive. It’s thanks to the knowledge, skill and commitment from the likes of Eric, Brian and Gwion that they do.
Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication.