The woodworking sector is growing at pace, with British Woodworking Federation (BWF) members working on exciting and innovative projects, and investing in new technologies to support the future of the industry. As an industry we must capitalise on the opportunities that are in front of us and find silver linings in the challenges we face that we can use to build our resilience and bolster the skills of our sector’s workforce.

Opportunities for the timber sector are currently being driven by a number of factors. One of the main contributors is largely the increasing number of homeowners and businesses choosing wood for both structural elements and features such as staircases, window frames, doors and interior furnishings.

This is underpinned by the trend we’re seeing across the wider construction industry towards biophilic design and using natural materials to improve the health and wellbeing of building occupants.

Research from the BWF’s Wood Window Alliance (WWA) reveals the extent of this trend, with almost half of homeowners agreeing that natural materials in their home make them feel happier.

Presenting a great opportunity for the woodworking sector within the new build and wider residential market, this is a trend we expect to gain more momentum over the next 12 months. The increasing awareness and use of the material provides a fantastic platform to showcase the amazing craftsmanship of BWF members. To support increased demand, the BWF will continue to evolve and promote its technical expertise through expert guides such as the Stair Scheme Design Guide and Window Technical Sheets.

Providing vital support to the wider construction sector as it increases it use of timber, the BWF and its members will help to drive best practice, ensure standards are met and that chosen products are certified to be safe.

The government’s continued focus on housebuilding, alongside its recently announced Future High Streets Fund will play a key role in maintaining the upward trajectory of our members’ businesses. With the Federation of Master Builders estimating that as many as 400,000 new homes could be created in the empty spaces above shops on our high streets, the refurbishment of commercial space into residential is a clear area for market growth. However, as an industry we must focus on quality and building for longevity.

A focus on resolving challenges

In the face of the uncertainty around Brexit and the impact it could have on the sector, the construction industry remains resilient. The political debate over the future relationship with the European Union continues to evolve at pace, so it’s impossible to predict the exact outcome of Brexit. To provide guidance, the BWF is on hand to support its members and interpret and share the latest advice from the government and other influential bodies, such as the guidance on CE Marking. Our membership with Build UK and the Construction Products Association also allows us to cascade timely information to members.

Beyond Brexit, a key challenge that has been widely recognised by the industry is the ongoing construction skills shortage. To help bring new talent into the industry to support the industry’s growth, the BWF believes that a two-pronged approach is needed: encouraging the next generation into the woodworking profession and, importantly, maintaining a strong focus on retaining and upskilling the talented tradespeople we already have.

Training and in particular apprenticeships, were a key focus for the BWF in 2018 and continue to be in 2019. The BWF Wood Industry Training (WIT) Forum is dedicated to providing careers and training support (including specialist apprenticeship guidance) for the woodworking sector and customers.

In addition to these recruitment efforts, the WITForum has been approved to become an Approved Training Organisation (ATO) with the CITB. For our members this will provide a new channel for accessing robust and quality training sessions for a variety of disciplines and skillsets.

Using this model, we hope to increase the provision of training that we offer to the sector and, in the future, develop a BWF database of UK quality assured training providers.

Promoting best practice and safety is at the heart of the BWF’s activity. The safety of building products was brought into sharp relief following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, and through our schemes we hope to champion best practice specification, product design, installation and maintenance.

Through the Fire Door Alliance we work to improve the quality, safety and traceability of fire doors – a vital role during the ongoing Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reviews into construction materials and product performance.

In addition, through our industryrecognised WWA and Stair Scheme, we continue to promote best practice and innovation while supporting the ongoing training and development of our sector’s skilled professionals.

To aid our members’ growth, we will be working closely with architects and specifiers to promote each of the BWF schemes this year. This will see us explaining the benefits of third-party certification, the high standards our members meet, along with the inherent health and well-being, sustainable and performance benefits of wood.

Driving change

To support this wider growth drive, the BWF will champion the use of timber among government and key construction industry stakeholders. This will be crucial during the introduction of the government’s Building a Safer Future plan, which will deliver a significant step forward for the industry. Providing clearer standards and an effective regulatory framework, the plan will enhance the accountability and fire safety of the UK’s buildings. Expected to come into effect this year, the positive measures alongside the recent changes to Approved Document B and 7 will go a long way to making our buildings safer.

But it’s important that this is only the start of the path for our sector – we need to continue developing forward-thinking and innovative products and upskilling our workforce to create buildings that are safe and durable for generations to come.

For this reason, the BWF will remain vocal and champion training, installation and ongoing maintenance of buildings and their parts so that they remain fit for purpose and can perform as required. Through the award-winning Fire Door Safety Week campaign, we aim to raise awareness of fire safety to educate building owners, managers and users about the importance of fire doors and how to maintain them. This broader awareness was highlighted in the Building a Safer Future plan as crucial to the success and safety of our buildings.

The woodworking and joinery sector has many opportunities for growth ahead of it, but during this exciting time we need to remain committed to driving best practice throughout the industry. By providing expert advice, insight and technical guidance to the industry, the BWF is on hand to support the sector’s growth and champion the use of timber throughout the UK.