Driving the future of timber at UK Construction Week

The Timber section of UK Construction Week (UKCW) covered all the current hot topics in timber at the NEC in Birmingham this October. Learning, networking and innovation were all on the cards in the jam-packed schedule, leaving timber professionals with plenty to choose from.

Timber Innovation Zone

Innovation was a big theme at this year’s show and besides the UKCW Innovation Zone there was a bespoke timber one too. It included Piveteaubois who has developed a combined Use Class 2 and water repellent surface treatment to protect HEXAPLY CLT panels from water ingress during erection and against wood boring insects, termites, and decay from temporary exposure to humidity.

Another range of innovative products on display were from Tenmat Fire Protection Solutions. The new range of passive fire protection products provide fire breaks around ceiling fittings. The products include downlight covers, fire rated air valves and ceiling fan fire stops. A ceiling is only as fireproof as its weakest element, so this new product range is essential to improve fire safety.

The U-Build self-building system by Studio Bark was also catching visitor’s attention. It is made up of wooden frames and panels which can be assembled and dismantled with just a drill and a hammer. It can be used to build small or large structures depending on requirements and once the build is no longer required it can be easily dismantled. 

Sonae Arauco also showcased a new three-dimensional fibreboard. The composite board is formaldehyde free and can be shaped into infinite forms due to its thermoplastic behaviour under pressure and temperature. It is also 100% recyclable.

Learning galore

The Timber Focus Theatre offered a wealth of information and CPDs for timber professionals. The sessions were well attended, and covered building standards post Brexit and post Grenfell, the development of timber for offsite and panel discussions on procurement for big timber projects.

Industry experts on hand included: Hugh Mansfield Williams, technical manager at BM TRADA; David Thompson, fire consultant at Entuitive; Matthew Smith, fire consultant at Entuitive; Wojtek Serwatka; Bruce Bell, founder of Facit Homes; Robert Hairstans, Professor at Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures, Institute for Sustainable Construction and Edinburgh Napier University; Robin Lancashire, timber structures at TRADA; Piers Taylor, architect at Invisible Studio; Maria Vogiatzaki, Professor of Architecture at Anglia Ruskin University; Alex Abbey, partner at Cullinan Studio; Jonathan Roynon, technical director at Buro Happold; and George Clarke, architect and TV presenter.

Looking to the future of the industry saw conversations around how to develop talent, and what educational formats work in construction. Sustainability was also covered with circular economy taking centre stage and information on how to deliver low carbon education buildings.  

To uncover tomorrow’s timber talent, TRADA’s University Challenge 2020 was launched at UKCW. The aim of the challenge is for budding architects, architectural technologists, engineers, landscape architects and quantity surveying undergraduates to complete a design task, with the winners walking away with superb cash prizes. The brief for the multi-disciplinary team is to produce low-carbon, energy and water efficient, climate resilient, healthy and desirable community housing. They will have access to industry professionals to assist with the challenge, which takes place on 17-19 February 2020 at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering.

In between the seminars there was an opportunity to learn a new skill. Charlie Whinney architect and eco-friendly artist demonstrated wood-bending, showing the audience how to create organic shapes with a strip of ash and a simple steam machine.

Exhibitors’ thoughts

Feedback from exhibitors who attended the show was positive. Paul Treacy sales manager at Glennon Brothers, who are based in Ireland and Scotland, said: “The networking has been good; we invite customers along and take them for a coffee and a conversation.”

Timber Focus, a Manchester based timber distributor, was pleased with the levels of interest visitors had in its products.

Andrew Goto, head of sales said: “The amount of interest in painted products, which need the least amount of work, has been great. People still like timber and they trust the new technology such as our painted and fired treated claddings.”

One of the key features in the timber section was the Social Shell. This creation came from Scale Rule, which is a collective that promotes diversity and public engagement in the built environment. The project had community engagement at its heart while being a learning opportunity for students in Nottingham.

Students took part in a two-day workshop where they were briefed on building a structure. They were tasked with sketching out their concept, developing detailed drawings and explaining how they would build it.

 The Social Shell was cut from 61 sheets of Performance Plywood supplied by Hanson Plywood. The design was refined to reduce work on site, maximise material efficiency and reduce the need for bracketry, instead opting for slotted bearing or bolted connections. The Social Shell was on display in the Old Market Square, Nottingham before being moved to the Timber section of UKCW. 

Gary Scott, managing director of Hanson Plywood, said: “There has been a diverse range of visitors and some very positive conversations. Our high performance marine plywood was used in the design of the Social Shell. This sculpture has been outside for three months in Nottingham and it is a great showcase for the performance of our products.

“There is massive potential for fully certified timber-based panel products. This show has a central location, and we are going to work with TRADA to drive interest and interaction. We are committed to timber and getting the right product into the right industry.”

Rupert Scott, TRADA membership and marketing manager, added: “UKCW is an excellent opportunity for catching up with old members, meeting new ones, and gaining insight into the wider timber industry. To provide our comprehensive guidance, in a way that is helpful, TRADA must listen and respond to the needs of the market – to pinpoint where there is not enough information, and to seek to fill it where necessary. We were thrilled with the response to this year’s Timber Focus Theatre, which saw busy crowds for many of our CPD sessions, and we were equally delighted with the response to our afternoon networking events.”


There was also the opportunity to celebrate the timber industry with the Structural Timber Awards. Returning for its fifth year the eagerly anticipated event was held at the National Conference Centre, Birmingham on 9 October. Over 500 timber professionals attended the ceremony to celebrate the achievements of the industry. To catch up with the winners visit www.structuraltimberawards.co.uk.

The inaugural UK Construction Awards and the Fix Radio Awards were a great success and hope to highlight the best from all areas of construction for many years to come. The UKCW Role Model 2019 was also announced with Anjali Pindoria, project surveyor at Avi Contracts Ltd, picking up the award.

Health and wellbeing

Mental health was also a major focal point at the show, making UKCW the largest event in the history of the UK construction industry to address the issues. UKCW worked alongside Public Health England to launch Every Mind Matters to the construction industry.

Carwyn Lloyd Jones, the creator of the Tiny House at last year’s UKCW used his talents to create an artistic installation of swings all crafted from wood. This beautiful installation gave visitors somewhere peaceful to relax and chat openly.

Mates in Mind worked with UKCW to help bring together the new Mental Health Zone together at this year’s show. The Mind Your Head campaign also launched at UKCW, it was designed to promote mental wellbeing through it’s ‘Material Support’ gallery which was a collection of artwork made from construction components. Speakers and practical advice from an onsite therapist was also available.

UKCW also worked with STEAM; a mental health charity, which organised UKCW’s first multi sports cup. Exercise is beneficial to those who suffer with mental health issues, so the aim of the tournament was to promote the wellbeing benefits of sport and exercise.

Nathan Garnett, event director said: “This year's UKCW for me was brimming with positivity. In a time of political and economic uncertainty, the UK's largest showcase for the sector showed signed of transformation, as it adopts innovation at a faster pace than ever. The feeling all around was that we have a lot of work to do, come what may, so let’s get on with doing it in the safest, fastest and most efficient way possible by harnessing the potential of new technologies. 

“UKCW 2019 also tackled mental health in the sector head on with the support of the Every Mind Matters campaign, as we continue the role of improving mental health in construction for good. I was delighted how open we have now become on this subject and great conversations have started. Finally, to see the talent and diversity on stage for our UK Construction Awards, Fix Radio Awards and Role Model 2019 presentation shows how far we have come in the fifth edition of the event, and although a mountain still to climb, as an industry we should all be proud of that transformation.” 

To find out more: www.ukconstructionweek.com

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