Stereotypes of the hard-working Polish builder delivering quality work for a reasonable price were upheld at a unique event, the first of its kind, aimed at Polish architects, civil engineers, contractors, subcontractors, developers and facilities manager – and their British clients and suppliers.
The all-round, 360 degree event for the construction sector, entitled Poles Build UK, was held on 31 March 2017 at NatWest’s offices on Bishopsgate in the City of London. The event was intended to deliver high-quality business information to company owners from across the sector, and to maximise networking opportunities between them.
After the introduction and welcome from the BPCC’s chief adviser, Michael Dembinski, and Bartłomiej Kowalczyk, founder of PBLink, Nick Howe, from NatWest Business Banking, and Paweł Mes, founder of OneMoneyMail and one of the most successful Polish entrepreneurs in the UK, gave their opening addresses. Mr Howe spoke of the need for entrepreneurs to work on their businesses and to lift them to the next level, while Mr Mes spoke about how Polish construction firms in the UK had built their reputation by a sound education, hard work and attention to detail.
The first presentation of the morning was from Peter Krawczyk, co-founder and now sole owner of Smart Space Group, a firm which provides smart-home installations to high-end homes in and around London. Specialising in integration of multiple in-house technologies, Smart Space Group recently created the first fully voice-controlled apartment. Mr Krawczyk, whose firm has delivered double-digit growth over the past five years, gave his reflections on what subcontractors should be doing to expand their business.
Kasia Constable, co-founder of Sketch Design, talked about off-site construction as an answer to the UK’s housing shortage. Referring to the Farmer Review of the construction labour market, which identified the leading barriers to growth in the UK construction sector such as low productivity and poor skills, Ms Constable showed examples of factory-built units – whether simple panels or entire volumetric modules delivered to the building site. She concluded with examples of Polish factories engaged in the manufacturing of prefabricated modules. The skills shortage in UK construction will only get worse after Brexit, she said, as 8% of the sector’s workforce is from the EU.
Maciej Klinowski from PractiPol covered a touchy subject – namely health and safety at work. The difference in on-site safety culture between Poland and the UK is borne out in statistics; the accident rate is some five times higher in Poland. Mr Klinowski made it clear what the risks of ignoring best on-site practice were in terms of convictions, fines and even imprisonment, and talked about the changing legislative environment in the UK. “The law expects that site managers take steps as far as is reasonably practical in terms of time, trouble and effort,” he explained.
Szymon Dorna and Maciej Iwaszko, partners in BIM Engineers Consultancy gave a visually stunning presentation about the future of building information modelling (BIM) – the merging of 3D images of the building (or piece of infrastructure) to which non-graphic information such as manufacturer’s data, maintenance schedules and costs are appended.
After lunch and networking break, Natalia Tomas, from Kotrak talked about the importance of project management, and using the appropriate software tools to ensure that the construction process is being continually improved.
The construction sector is notoriously acrimonious, with disputes arising between developer and contractor, between contractor and subcontractor, between client and developer Agnieszka Bania, from Simpkins & Co Solicitors specialises in employment law and litigation, including commercial disputes. She explained the importance of a well-drafted contract, and the importance of good legal advice to ensure you get paid, while avoiding disputes with clients and employees.
Monika Slowikowska, founder and owner of Golden Houses Developments, gave an inspirational speech, in which she showed how she built up an award-winning construction company that employes 50 people. She attributed her company’s rise to her enlightened approach to her employees, who are treated fairly and who are empowered to manage their own work. Maintaining the highest quality and ethical standards, Ms Slowikowska’s company continues to win repeat business from satisfied high-end developers, while winning recognition from the UK media as an outstanding firm.
Ms Slowikowska and Ms Bania from Simkins & Co were joined for a panel discussion by another award-winning Polish female business owner in the UK, Grace Lachowicz of Dekko Interiors, as well as chartered surveyor Piotr Jaworowski, STP, insolvency practitioner Lloyd Hinton from Insolve Plus, and architect Piotr Adamczyk, from Frontline Architects. The panel, chaired by Michael Dembinski, considered the main barriers holding back the growth of construction businesses and the main challenges facing the industry in the UK. Panellists discussed skills shortages and offered useful tips about managing cash flow and getting paid.
After a question and answer session with the audience, the conference moved on to the main networking session, in which business cards were swapped and new contacts established. The event was judged to have been hugely successful; there is a clear demand for more sector-focused events alongside the general cross-sector mixers and seminars that focus on business growth.
Congress partners were Simpkins & Co Solicitors, Kotrak, OneMoneyMail trading as Sami Swoi, and NatWest Bank which also provided the venue and catering. Congress supporters were BC Printing, which supplied all the printed materials for the event, Best Foods, Buildeo and Neadoo Digital.
Photos by Urban Rec are available in the gallery
Author: Michael Dembinski, BPCC