In conversation with Gareth Jones
This week I chatted with Gareth Jones about his career to date & his thoughts on the Fire industry post Grenfell, and Peleton!
Gareth is a Certified Member of the Association for Project Safety and can be found on the national competency register (CMaPS) for Principal Designers and has also received the coveted GradIOSH status for Health and Safety. Gareth has a degree in Business Property Management and HNC in Building Studies.
Gareth has extensive experience in delivery and management of specialist projects and with a mix of private and public sector clients across the UK - most significantly Healthcare, Education and Local Government.
Since joining NIFES Gareth has undertaken and managed numerous projects in order to better help our clients understand their compliance against key health and safety legislation. Commissions have included bespoke safety audits, fire risk assessments and statutory inspections as well as undertaking CDM Coordinator / Principal Designer duties on numerous occasions. Gareth’s role has included training of staff, report production, accident investigation and an advisory service to a number of Executive Committees. Gareth has then implemented his findings into client Property Appraisals and Backlog Maintenance Reports where Capital projects have then been funded accordingly.
Gareth has worked as CDMC / Principal Designer for a number of building developments varying in both size and value. Recent projects have included the development of a new £86 million Cancer Centre for the London Clinic. Other projects have included lift installations for the Imperial College, an Eye Centre on Harley Street and the current £150million+ redevelopment of Europe’s largest privately owned hospital whilst it remains fully operational throughout the construction period.
Describe your current role?
I currently work as the Managing Director for NIFES Consulting Group, and act as Head of Operations across the Assets, Compliance and Fire Divisions within Bellrock. This essentially means ensuring that we provide the Client with exactly what they have asked for – and try our best to exceed their expectations. The operational side involves matching the correct resources, skills and experience to each project.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a keen sportsman I was always keen to be a professional rugby player growing up. I played for Leicestershire Schools, and played for the Leicester Tigers for 3 years. At the time I never really thought I would do anything but play rugby. However, my parents were both adamant that I couldn’t rely on this – and I needed a trade!! So, I went to Uni and managed to get a degree at De Montfort University in Business Property Management. After a bad injury at 19 I was also released by Leicester and luckily had my degree to utilise (I the ‘I told you so’ from my parents 😊). I have always loved surveying both academically and professionally. So, to actually use my degree still now is a bonus.
Tell Us About the Greatest Achievements of Your Career?
I think I have been surrounded by a number of really good people that have presented me with some good opportunities. I have been fortunate enough to do surveys and inspections on some iconic buildings – from Winston Churchill’s War Room’s beneath Whitechapel to some of the world’s best Medical Facilities on Harley Street. I think the one I am most proud of has been the emergency work I undertook as Principal Designer at the start of pandemic. I was involved in the construction and development of a number of emergency COVID Wards across various NHS Trust all over the UK. Despite very little time to plan we were able deliver some amazing facilities on a tight budget in a small timescale. It was pleasing to know we were supporting the NHS and doing our bit to help those on the front line. It also makes you stop and think how much can be achieved if we are all pulling in the same direction.
What Career Advice Do You Wish You Could Give to Your Younger Self?
Enjoy today. Sometimes you can use so much energy driving forward to meet an end goal or target, that you forget to enjoy what you are doing right now. Celebrate every little victory and you realise that the journey is as good as the result. The younger me was a little less patient…
Biggest change for you post pandemic?
Peloton! As most of the people reading this will probably relate to, the pandemic has really changed the way we work. I went from being site based 4/5 days a week to being at the desk all day every day. You quickly realise that you need to have clear boundaries – i.e. packing away your laptop at the end of the day, having designated breaks, etc. If not then you find you are effectively always working or always checking and responding to emails, which isn’t healthy and also affects our productivity. I invested in a Peloton bike to give me some active time away from the desk. It’s been a game-changer for me as I no longer need to travel to a gym before or after work. Whether people go out on a bike, walk or run, listen to a podcast its important (and healthy) to switch off and have some me-time! I think the pandemic has taught us all about the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
What are the biggest challenges facing landlords and owners of large property portfolios?
I think the whole spectrum of compliance has and continues to change. 10-15 years ago, the fire industry was very much focused around Fire Risk Assessment being the main thing they had to have. Tragedies such as Grenfell, and legislation changes such as the Corporate Manslaughter Act have meant the Clients and Landlords are becoming better informed around their obligations and responsibilities around fire. The biggest challenge I see is around knowing what ‘compliant’ actually looks like. With changes around the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill I think there will be a growing amount of confusion where Clients actually struggle to know what they need to do to become (and stay) compliant. A vast majority of landlords and estate managers really do want to be compliant, but very few know how to get there and be able to demonstrate it. In the future I think we will see more Consultants and FM providers using technology like Concerto to be able to prove their level of compliance and demonstrate good practice when being audited by a 3rd party.
If you could change one thing in this industry, what would it be?
I would like to see more regulation around competency within the industry. There is a huge gulf in what various parties deem as ‘competent’. This spans from Risk Assessors, Consultants, Compartmentation Surveyors and Installers. When recruiting for a ‘qualified’ fire professional this can mean a number of things and ultimately leads to ambiguity in a process that should (and could) be much clearer. We have found that we now tend to look at things like 3rd party accreditation, professional memberships and registers in conjunction with qualifications as I don’t think either can be taken in isolation. Procurement teams are starting to see that cheapest is not always better – especially around fire. I think the fact that people are looking at competency registers and accreditation does demonstrate that Clients now want assurances around competency and quality. Visibility around competency could be much more transparent with a system similar to CSCS cards where fire professionals could show their various experience, knowledge and qualifications. For a example a ‘qualified’ fire risk assessor may not have experience in hospitals or high-rise buildings, but has done industrial units - so one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
How can the industry attract more people into fire safety?
The pathways into fire are extremely narrow. It was recently published that there are under 100 Chartered Fire Engineers in the UK – something killing the industry with EWS1 suffering in particular as supply cannot keep up with demand. Apart from ex-fire brigade members coming into the private sector, we see people transfer into the fire industry from Building Surveyors, Compliance Professionals and Fire Stopping Contractors. This means that we receive people with a peripheral knowledge of the industry – but not necessarily fire specific. I would like to see more young people join the industry and take on apprenticeships in Fire so that this is their main discipline. It would help to build the industry to a sustainable level where there is a mixture of ages and experiences which can only benefit the industry.
Biggest change for the industry post pandemic?
The fire industry lobbied the government really early on to be given Key Worker status. This meant that the majority of fire staff worked all the way through the various lockdowns and were relatively unaffected as buildings still required statutory inspections and fire associated works to be carried out. As an industry we were fortunate enough to be able to continue trading as Clients learnt from past tragedies how important it is to keep their buildings compliant. Some specific services like Type-4 fire risk assessments, that require going into a percentage of flats and accommodation have been affected in terms of access due to COVID whereby consultants cannot enter people’s homes. The biggest changed to this is that the industry has focused on the safety of the surveyor especially around contacts and cleanliness of surfaces. In turn this has improved the safety aspects around site visits and protecting the workforce.