(Land) Mines to Tunnelling
Tideway Talk spoke to Stephen Pritchard, who has completed a two-week work placement with BuildForce.
Please talk a little bit about your time in the military
I was in the Army for a short time. I graduated from University with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and turned down an offer from the City to join the Army for a bit of adventure. I joined as an Officer and was a Troop Commander in the Royal Signals, in charge of lots of complicated equipment and people more knowledgeable than myself. We helped out in the UK’s initial reaction to 9/11.
What did you do after leaving the Army?
I left the Army after four years and started working for charities clearing land mines, beginning in Mozambique. I somehow ended up working in the United Nations HQ in New York and on four peacekeeping missions in sub-Saharan Africa. After I had lived and worked in 20 countries, my wife’s career brought her to the UK, so we moved here.
When did you meet BuildForce?
I met BuildForce at a networking event in London in December. Before meeting them, I hadn’t considered working in construction – I have some experience in this area from previous jobs, but mainly building things like weapons storage facilities in a Project Management role. They were very supportive and when the opportunity came up on Tideway, I was interested to find out more.
What did you do on your work placement?
I spent two weeks at CHAWF and the Cottons Centre, I also visited EARPS. I shadowed Health and Safety in meetings and site inspections and spoke to management teams on the contractor, PM and Client sides. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to attend the International Women’s day event which I thought was a genuine, well though-through event and it was great to see so many people present.
What did you enjoy most?
The thing I enjoyed most and was most impressed by, was the management ethos and openness of the people I met.
Coming from a safety-critical industry which emphasises a high level of professionalism, I was in awe of the management focus on health, including mental, and safety, which is so genuine. In a large commercial entity, it can be easy to ignore a couple of injuries or even fatalities, but Tideway really emphasises the importance of getting everyone home safely and driving the accident rate down to zero. A big part of this was EPIC and it’s great to see this continue to be pushed as the project progresses.
Have you enjoyed your work placement?
I enjoyed it and learnt a lot. From a commercial perspective, it seems amazing that this project is even taking place; it can be difficult to rally support around a problem which has an almost invisible environmental benefit – people don’t tend to care unless it affects them directly.
I am in admiration of the management ethos, particularly towards safety and mental health. Mental health is something which is close to my heart as I have seen lots of broken people in war zones around the world.
It wasn’t until my placement, however, that I realised suicide rates in construction workers were so high – almost 1,500 men working in construction committed suicide in 2015. As well as the institutional structures in place to encourage people to start talking about mental health, I thought the campaign to speak openly with colleagues about mental health was really important.
People have been so generous with their time – everyone was happy to help and offer advice. It’s not like that everywhere! Andy Brown and Chloe Parish were great – it takes a lot of effort to take on a work placement and they’d organised a broad schedule for me with lots of things to do.