TRADA started in 1934 as the Timber Development Association.
• Work by TRADA in the 80s and 90s fed into the development of Eurocode 5.
• It sees itself as the interface between customers and the supply chain.
• More branded products are likely to appear on the market in future.

TRADA celebrates it 75th anniversary this year, but unlike many 75-year-olds, it isn’t about to put its collective feet up and bask in a rosy glow of nostalgia, deserving though that may be. Instead it is as determined as ever to fulfil its remit of promoting the use of timber and providing technical support and information to allow specifiers to make informed decisions and suppliers to match product to required end use.

“We’ve been on a journey and it’s far from complete,” said chief executive Andrew Abbott. And TRADA has witnessed many changes and undergone several transformations since starting out on that journey on March 11, 1934 as the Timber Development Association.

A handful of strategic reorganisations (including a management buyout) later, TRADA today sits at the heart of the industry, with a growing membership drawn from the timber supply chain and its customer base in building and construction.

New company

The MBO company, now the BM TRADA Group, encompasses five UK subsidiaries: TRADA Technology Ltd; BM TRADA Certification Ltd; Chiltern International Fire Ltd (of which Chiltern Dynamics is a part); CCB Evolution; and FIRA International (an acquisition from the Furniture Industry Research Association), as well as two subsidiaries and seven (currently) joint ventures around the world, and this number is growing. Between them, the UK businesses employ 270 and boast an impressive line-up of leaders in the field of product and process certification, construction technology, building performance, environmental management, structural engineering, fire behaviour, training – the list goes on.

Since the MBO, TRADA has employed no staff. It buys its services, such as research and information, from TRADA Technology and can draw on the expertise of the whole BM TRADA Group.

But the changes haven’t just been in name and accountability. The nature of the organisation has also evolved throughout its life, particularly as the timber industry rationalised through the 90s and as the government’s take on research changed.

“When I joined in 1985 TRADA was definitely a research centre, conducting a lot of government-funded research and taking a leading role in the international research community,” said Mr Abbott.

“Although it was very purposeful and had specific technical targets – a lot of the work we were doing in the mid-80s and early 90s fed into the development of what is now Eurocode 5, for example – it had a more academic feel. Then, there were dedicated government-funded research programmes for construction and an understanding of the incremental nature of construction research.” Today the emphasis has shifted towards new technologies and very large projects that target market transformation, with construction and timber having to compete alongside all other industries, although “there are signs that the pendulum is starting to swing back more in favour of a sector approach, which is extremely welcome”, said Mr Abbott.

Specific needs

The nature of the research now, he added, is much more one of “short-term problem-solving focusing on the specific needs of the moment”.

Those specific needs include keeping members and industry professionals well briefed. “TRADA is about ‘foresighting’ the future, feeding that back to the industry and engaging with the customer base to drive the demand for the material,” said Mr Abbott. “TRADA is an interface between the customers and the supply chain and that’s reflected in our membership which includes corporate members from the timber industry, who are the suppliers; and professional members who are architects, engineers, surveyors, local authorities and so on, who are the customers.

“We see ourselves right in the middle, putting buyers in contact with sellers, specifiers in touch with suppliers. Central to this strategy is TRADA’s website (, which receives over 40,000 visitors each month.”

TRADA conference

At the In Touch with Timber conference, he pointed out, architects and engineers gave presentations to an audience of their peers, and the accompanying exhibition featured timber industry suppliers. That way delegates were hearing about the application of specific products or systems and could talk to the suppliers of some of them in the breakout sessions.

“The idea is to inspire designers to use timber and then give them the tools to do the job and point them in the right direction to source the products they need.” For its part, said Mr Abbott, the timber industry would benefit from moving away from the commoditisation of some of its products. “The industry sees itself as a supplier of product to the construction industry, but not as part of it,” he said, and he applauds those companies who are thinking in terms of added value and services rather than volume and pricing. By providing solutions – a floor cassette rather than a load of joists and chipboard, for example – he believes timber stands more of a chance of penetrating areas of construction where it is currently under-represented. And, he said, as a consequence of value adding, more branded products, bolstered by quality marks and certification, will start to appear.

“Because TRADA Technology employs and works closely with architects and engineers, we understand how their minds work and can help the industry interpret their specifications and supply appropriate products and services. By the same token we can educate architects and specifiers on what the manufacturers can do and the constraints under which they operate. Architects want their designs to reflect their personalities, but if you go too far down the bespoke route and don’t take due cognisance of the material you’re using, you can run into trouble. You really do need the designer and the supplier to work together as part of the overall design team at an early stage,” he said. “That’s where TRADA can help.”

Maintaining timber’s reputation

However, TRADA, despite its allegiance, won’t push the use of timber indiscriminately, recognising that one inappropriate application could do more damage to the material’s reputation than 10 suitable ones.

“We’re not tree huggers,” said Mr Abbott. “It’s all about the correct specification and appropriate use of timber. We wouldn’t advise using timber where it could fail because that’s not good for the material or the industry. Our three watchwords are ‘independence’, ‘authority’ and ‘integrity’.”

The list of services the BM TRADA Group of companies offers to the construction industry is proof positive that “timber can’t act in isolation”. “There are some very elegant designs in timber and steel, and even timber and concrete,” said Mr Abbott, “but another factor is that designers don’t just have to take structural performance of the material into account, they have to consider airtightness, acoustic performance, thermal performance and so on. The industry is becoming much more horizontally diverse.”

Codes and regulations

It’s no longer possible “just to be a producer of timber products without worrying about the circumstances and consequences of its use”, he said, adding that this is one reason for the organisation’s current focus on codes and regulations under the aegis of Rupert Scott – it’s another of TRADA’s foresighting roles.

TRADA also alerts its members to the opportunities on the horizon. “Eurocodes are about to take hold at last and our work educating the interested parties will feature very prominently over the next couple of years. We’re seeing a lot of interest from people who know they have to get to grips with it if they are to be a designer in timber and we’re starting to see interest in using timber for bridges, for example,” said Mr Abbott.

“We’re not here as a substitute for the industry’s own R&D, but as a catalyst to prompt and guide and help it achieve what it wants to. Companies will always know more about their products than TRADA will, but what we know is about the environment in which they will be used and hence how best to present them to customers.

“Put those two together and it’s a winning combination.”