Tiles being manufactured at the Wienerberger Broomfleet factory

Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

The construction industry looks set to play an important role as the nation starts to rebuild following the coronavirus crisis. Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear that those in the trade are still broadly optimistic about future business. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index1, construction workers are more confident about their short-term futures than people in any other sector.  Wienerberger examines what’s underpinning this optimism, whether it’s realistic and how businesses in the sector can begin to deal with the new ‘normal’.

The construction industry will need to play an important role in helping the nation to build again following the Coronavirus pandemic. During this crisis, the industry has been challenged like never before, but is emerging out the other side more resilient. To understand why, it’s important to first recognise that the construction sector was never forced to totally shut down during the lockdown. In fact, many firms were encouraged to continue operations, albeit at reduced levels, by government ministers. As a result, many companies feel more confident about restarting full operations when compared to those in other fields, which had to completely halt.

Clay Tiles at Broomfleet Factory


Furthermore, certain forms of construction work, such as important infrastructure projects, were deemed ‘essential’ and continued throughout the lockdown period unaffected. In turn, this meant that those carrying out the work, as well as the specialist merchants who supplied them were classified as ‘key workers’. This classification has helped to greatly reaffirm the importance of construction workers to the broader public. Within the national media, positive stories about construction are becoming a daily occurrence. Additionally, on a policy level the Government’s renewed commitment to HS2 underlines its support for the sector. As such, in looking to get Britain back building, the industry can know it has support from many different places. 


The Road Ahead

However, in planning a return to pre-Coronavirus levels of activity, the construction sector must recognise the immediate challenges it faces. Right now, the sector is contracting, with results from March showing that total purchasing and output levels have been impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, architects are warning that since the beginning of March almost 40% of pre-construction projects have been put on hold. Whilst some construction projects may have halted due to uncertainty, it’s important that the industry is proactive in looking for ways to consolidate operations, protect the livelihoods of its staff and explore any potential new avenues for growth. Concurrently, it’s vital that the sector continues to make itself hospitable to young people and draws in new, talented workers to help bridge the skills gap.

Although the Coronavirus crisis is far from over, it has already had a big impact on how we live our everyday lives. Despite the fact many of these changes are difficult to get used to, they do present the construction sector with some hidden opportunities for growth. For one, the nation continues to need more homes, with the government still committed to its target of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020’s. As an industry, construction must ensure that this target is met and reaffirm its commitment to building more houses.

Likewise, should the pandemic adversely affect levels of demand in the private housing market, it’s likely that the government will simply look to improve its existing social housing supply, which would also benefit the construction sector. There are already signs that this could be happening, and it would offer significant work for those in the sector. Since the pandemic, leading contractors such as Wilmott-Dixon have won major social housing projects, including a £59m development in Westminster. What’s more, Salford City Council’s planning committee recently approved a £105m housing development overlooking the River Irwell.

With many high-street retail outlets closed, more and more commerce is moving online, which is also creating demand for industrial parks and warehouse construction. Recently, the Mick George Group was awarded a multi-service construction package at the Magna Park Lutterworth logistics and distribution park. The exciting project, which entails a 7-million square foot expansion worth £20m, highlights the scale of projects available within this part of the sector. As such, businesses must look to be reactive and able to seize on new opportunities brought about by shifts in demand.

What’s more, it’s arguable that firms in the sector have never had so much government support. To this end, Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick recently outlined a policy, which allows building sites to operate until 9pm in residential areas, and for longer in non-residential areas, between Mondays and Saturday. It’s hoped that the policy can help businesses to ‘catch up’ on missed work, as well as ensuring shift patterns can be better staggered. Those that want to take advantage of this extension must apply for it through their local council. All applications will be approved unless there is a ‘very compelling’ reason not to.

Curtis, Production Operative, Broomfleet factory
Safety First

At Wienerberger, we’re also committed to supporting the industry through this difficult period. As such, we’re still holding regular planning meetings with architects, specifiers and contractors, ensuring that work progress remains steady. We’re also redoubling our efforts to move resources, such as CPD’s and product information online. Additionally, we’re ensuring that our product catalogues and brochures can be delivered to those who need them, helping to facilitate remote working practices in the process. Whilst acutely aware of the challenges posed by this period, we’re trying to continue working as normal as possible.

By placing a greater emphasis on digital and mobile solutions, we’re putting ourselves in the best possible position to continue supporting and interacting with our customers and partners. Although our internal digitisation process has been on-going for some time, we’ve decided to step things up in light of the current crisis. In doing so, we’ve ensured that we have the capabilities and infrastructure to master this challenging moment. Making the investment has helped us to continue successfully on our growth path, ensuring we deliver innovation and sustainability. 

Our number one priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our staff. To this end, we’ve recently instituted a new set of health and safety protocols, designed to combat COVID-19 transmission. The new measures will protect our employees, haulage partners, suppliers and customers. Likewise, we’re pleased to see the nation’s leading house builders and contractors back the Construction Leadership Council’s ‘Site Operating Procedures’. The document, which is being regularly updated provides a great guide to keeping on-site staff safe.

As always, we’re on hand to support companies in implementing their own set of measures. To this end, we’re happy to share information about the techniques we’ve used, which can be found here.

Of course, during this period, we’ll continue to constantly assess our own operations for areas that can be further improved. As always, health and safety remains an ever-changing, ever-evolving process. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any innovative measures, which can help to deliver outstanding health and safety results whilst still enabling reactive decision-making. We believe that by working together, the construction industry can resume work in a safe manner, helping to forge a path, which other industries can follow. What’s more, working under the spotlight of enhanced public and media attention both in print and online gives the sector an opportunity to reaffirm what makes it so great.

New Perspectives on Construction

For the first time, many Britons are getting to see the varied nature of construction work, gaining a better understanding of its appeal in the process. Therefore, if handled correctly, the industry has a chance to update its public image and reestablish with a broader audience why they should consider working in the trade. In doing so, the sector could finally achieve what so many well-intentioned recruitment drives of the past have sought to do; attract more young people. Not only would this help to drive output, but it would significantly bridge the current skills gap. Whilst the ambition is lofty, that’s what we will be looking to achieve at Wienerberger and believe it’s possible for the rest of the sector too.

Moving forward, it’s imperative that the construction industry rallies together to get Britain back building. In many ways, the Coronavirus pandemic has renewed public and political faith in our sector and could end up creating more unexpected opportunities than we first envisioned. However, the sector must be under no illusions that it first faces a tough, prolonged battle. Fortunately, by redoubling health and safety efforts, sharing advice and embracing innovation, there’s a chance the sector could emerge in a better position than ever. At Wienerberger, we’ll be reacting in sync with the wider economic recovery, recognising that flexibility, agility and innovation will be crucial when embracing the emerging new reality.


  1. Construction workers among country’s most confident amid covid-19 uncertainty., 6th May 2020. Jordan Marshall, viewed 29th May 2020 at Building.co.uk.
Laura, Continuous Improvement Engineer, Broomfleet factory

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