The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) – the largest trade association in the UK – celebrates its 80th birthday this year but, while the organisation has a rich history, its focus is firmly on the future.
From the Second World War to the pandemic”, declares FMB Chief Executive Brian Berry, “Master Builders have been there to look after our built environment and be the badge of quality, both in the good times and the bad.”
From humble beginnings in July 1941, when 15 small builders joined together to help Britain build back better after the Blitz, the FMB now operates throughout the UK. As champions of quality construction, the FMB uses its voice to help our members promote, protect and grow their businesses, so everyone can build with confidence. Supporting members to ‘build back better’ remains the priority as the UK construction sector navigates its way through the Covid-19 pandemic, skills shortages, and climate change.
Protecting the best
Improving standards and increasing public confidence have been key themes throughout the trade association’s history, from establishing the first insurance-backed warranty on workmanship, materials and structural defects in the 1980s, to being a founding scheme provider of TrustMark in the 2000s. “If you appoint an FMB member you know they’ve been vetted and independently inspected and that they are a bona fide company,” explains National President Jan Etchells. “You’re inviting people into your house, so trust is important, and FMB membership gives confidence that companies are doing a good job.”
The leading industry body is proud of its range of business support services, including contract templates, helplines, e-learning modules, guidance and webinars, as well as a free online Find a Builder service to help companies win more work. Importantly, stresses Etchells, the organisation also bringing members together as a community, whether online or via the biennial Master Builder Awards that celebrate the best in the business. “The great thing about the FMB is that it is like an extended family,” said Etchells who joined in the early 1980s.
A voice for the industry
Over 80 years, the FMB has continued to be a voice for the industry, lobbying on the issues affecting the Master Builder community, including licensing UK construction to protect standards, and making it easier for micro and small house builders to deliver the homes we need. “At the moment we are really struggling with product availability”, explains Etchells, “and we have just gone through an unprecedented year. We are joining together as one to say to the people who can do something about it ‘this is what you need to do.’ If you were just Joe Bloggs building company you might not feel as if you have any control over it, whereas with the FMB you know somebody is fighting your corner.”
The importance placed on skills and giving small builders a voice in determining the training requirements for the industry, has remained consistent during the FMB’s lifespan. Bids to tackle the skills shortage have included closer involvement with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Former National and Welsh President, Geoff Snow has been a member since 1977, and he spent 10 years as an FMB representative on the CITB’s board. “It has been really hard for builders recently. The FMB has played a big supporting role during the pandemic, and my hope is that we come out of the other side in fine fettle,” says Snow, who received an OBE for services to the construction industry and to apprenticeships in Wales, and who is currently chair of the Health & Safety and Audit Committees.
“It’s had a major impact on training and there is going to be a big gap, similar to the situation following the recession in the 1980s. We have to make sure that training is a priority. Without a good foundation you’re not going to have a building, and apprentices are our foundation.” The Federation of Master Builders has been actively involved in creating new apprenticeship standards in bricklaying and plastering, and is currently developing a proposal for a general builder apprenticeship. It is also campaigning to make it easier for SMEs to take on apprentices. “SMEs deliver 71 per cent of the training in construction, but they need support to do that, and to encourage new people from all backgrounds into the industry”, says Berry.
A green future
While the founding principles remain just as relevant today, the organisation continues to move with the times, says Berry. “Small builders will be crucial to decarbonising our homes and meeting the UK Government’s net zero carbon target for 2050, including through retrofit and sustainable building.” New member ADD Sustainable Construction specialises in low-energy, high-end houses based around Passivhaus principles. A recent project in Feock, Cornwall, used recycled materials including secondary aggregate from the clay industry, and recycled newspaper insulation, alongside features including a wildflower roof, and a water source heat pump drawing heat from the bottom of a man-made lake which is also used for swimming.
The project is one of two that director and architect Ian Armstrong has entered into this year’s Master Builder Awards. He is passionate about sustainable buildings and says that being a member gives the company a platform to highlight how things can be done differently.
“The Government is forcing buildings to be built in high-density developments but not everyone wants that,” he explains. “The FMB can use companies like ours as case studies to show that you don’t have to build that way.” The company is proof that SME construction firms can deliver high-end sustainable homes, says Armstrong, who would like to see more SMEs operating in the market in the future. Working with the Construction Leadership Council, the FMB has led the development of a national retrofit strategy setting out how to upgrade the country’s 28 million homes to the highest levels of energy efficiency. “While we support SME builders to get back on their feet as the UK emerges from a year of lockdowns, we will also be keeping a clear eye on ensuring they are fit for the future”, says Berry.
For further information on the Federation of Master Builders visit https://www.fmb.org.uk/