Categories Mental Health, Sole owner

Loneliness: The curse of the Owner Manager

One in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time. There’s no single cause and there’s no one solution. After all, we’re all different! But, the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems. Some people are also at higher risk of feeling lonely than others.

So says the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) on its Mental Health Awareness Week website.

As owner, manager, chief electrical engineer, trainer, mentor, business developer and head bottle-washer; life is pretty busy. But, doing it totally on my own, like so many SME owner managers, it’s not just busy, but it’s lonely.

Before taking you through my own 3 Best Ways to Beat Isolation, let me first share 3 ways to help other sufferers as published by the MHF:

How to support other people who are feeling lonely

1. Don’t judge or stigmatiseembrace

It’s important not to judge or stigmatise people who feel lonely. Stigma around loneliness is a huge barrier to the kind of open and genuine conversations that can help. It’s more important to be aware of just how common loneliness is. It’s a normal feeling that all of us are likely to experience at some time in our lives. Telling other people that their poor mental health is the reason why they are feeling lonely is really not helpful.

2. Try to make groups welcoming to other people

It can be difficult for people who are feeling lonely to join a group like a club. This might be because people are shy or feel nervous about existing relationships in the group which they don’t feel part of. It’s important to be aware of this and try to make groups be as welcoming as possible to newcomers. Flexibility around things like how often people attend is also important.

3. Try to listen and show understanding

A great way to help a friend, colleague or family member is simply to listen. People who have experienced loneliness relate how they valued friends who really considered what they might enjoy and were even willing to join them in some shared activities. Having an understanding and compassionate approach, and not ignoring the person’s experience, will help them to feel heard and understood.

Categories Social Housing

Social Housing: Adapting to Change, Delivering to Need.

In many ways it’s a good thing that the majority of UK’s diverse population doesn’t really know what or why Social Housing is. A good thing, because to live in Social Housing is to have deeply painful social needs.

Commercially, suppliers, contractors and other service providers simply think of delivering to such properties as – ‘another paycheque’.

Socially, we (JGF Electrical) take a pride in supporting communities whose needs are greater, and resources weaker, than we would ever hope of requiring ourselves.

Professional Support

That is why our approach to partnering the not-for-profit Housing Associations who operate such schemes, is to do so with extra care and consideration. Our job on site is not unlike supporting Landlords of normal rental portfolios. We test and inspect to British standards; upgrade accessories, consumer units and smoke detection where required; partially rewire or fully rewire properties requiring the upgrades; complete adaptions for social and physical ability needs. And most importantly, complete all certification for a safe home for people to live

More often than not, these properties are occupied and sometimes by people with personal issues and in distress.

Gaining access can even be a challenge. We train our teams to have the highest electrical industry standards. But we also train and develop ‘social experience’, so they extend the supportive hand of polite professionalism at the same time. As, when on site, we represent the Managing Association, this approach is an asset to them and a feather in the cap for us both.

As you can imagine, it’s far from being a bed of roses. Outside of properly managed bona fide Housing Associations, tenants have been treated as second class citizens for whom second and third-rate accommodation ‘will do’.

So disgustingly wrong.

Things are Changing

But, thankfully, things are changing.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News in February, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said he is “ashamed” by the conditions social housing tenants are being forced to live in. He admitted, for the first time, the Government had failed to deliver the reforms promised to tenants after the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. A year-long ITV News investigation has uncovered social housing conditions described as “the worst the sector has ever seen”.

Residents across Britain have shown the mould, damp, leaks, collapsed ceilings and risks of electrocution that blight their lives, despite consistent complaints to their landlord.

Politically, he was able to make such admissions because the Government had already released their White Paper on ‘Levelling Up’ earlier that month.

An article from the National Housing Federation (NHF) sums up the intentions of ‘Levelling Up’:

Key Issues & Actions

Key issues covered in the White Paper are considered under specific headings:

  • Regeneration and delivering social housing
  • Local government and devolution
  • UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Planning reform
  • Resident voice and quality of homes
  • Supply of older peoples’ housing
  • Next steps for housing associations

The NHF article notes that there are still questions around the details of funding and how the new proposals will work in practice. So, there’s clearly more to come on this and we are grateful to UK Housing for keeping all involved up to speed. And we will be developing what this means to JGF and other specialist contractors supporting Social Housing over the next few months.

The bottom line though is that all involved will have to tighten their grip.

There will be more work needed across the sector to inspect, maintain, upgrade and re-fit, which means greater costs to scheme managers. These costs can be offset against future call outs, if the job is done properly in the first place, and ‘properly’ means far more than just ticking off a number on a job sheet.

‘Properly’ means approaching the service partnership with broader understanding and responsibility from inspection, specification, quotation, stock management, efficiency, installation, re-testing and certification.

Certification itself means more than form filling. We are known across Kent for the quality of EICR Certification and, if it carries our Q1 quality assurance stamp, you will know it’s a job well done. No compromise, just experience, expertise and of course – care.

As you see, it’s a big subject that we will be taking bite-sized pieces from, to digest over the coming months.

Categories Apprenticeships, Buy-To-Let, Landlord

Section 21 – Scrapped: Implications & Thoughts

Section 21 eviction powers will be removed from landlords. Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, says this will “end the unfair situation where renters can be kicked out of their homes for no reason.”

All homes in the private rental sector will have to meet a minimum standard to be known as the Decent Homes Standard

‘Levelling Up’

The ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper continues to say: “We will consult on introducing a Landlords Register and will set out plans for a crack down on rogue landlords – making sure fines and bans stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible conditions.”

The Government says home ownership will be boosted via a new £1.5 billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund being launched. This is intended to provide loans to small and medium sized developers and support the Government’s wider regeneration agenda in areas considered a priority for levelling up. 

The government is also committing to build what it calls “more genuinely affordable social housing.” A new Social Housing Regulation Bill will be introduced following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.

The ‘80/20 rule’ will be scrapped, with much of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding instead being diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands, with less emphasis on London and the South East.

The Bill as a whole is intended to: “shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities throughout the 2020s.”

So, what does this mean for JGF Electrical ?

A heck of a lot !

  • We totally support the need for more affordable, decent, safe housing for the many in desperate need of security in their living space.
  • This includes both rental accommodation and Social Housing.
  • Already working closely with Landlords and Management Agencies in both disciplines, we have developed a service and advisory programme to help maintain properties to the highest standards and refurbish voids quickly and efficiently so the properties are safe and comfortable for the tenants that so desperately need them, and the owners can relax, knowing the work is cost-effectively completed with professional focus.
  • We provide ‘nose-to-tail’ Electrical installation, inspection, correction and compliance, from construction to conversion, upgrades to occupation, and ongoing advice and service management.

What’s more:

The Bill has 12 Missions covering a breadth of National development criteria. One in particular sits at the heart of our own mission withing JGF Electrical and reads:

“6. By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.”

We are hoping we can use this mindset to build on our existing Apprenticeship Programme and to help other local Trades and the colleges in Kent and beyond to present closer relations for Apprentices, businesses and Britain to benefit long term.

We can’t keep up with BAE Systems who recently announced plans to recruit almost 1,700 apprentices and graduates this year – a record number, but we can, are, and will continue to do our bit.

[See our recent article / blog – The Knowledge Gap – for more on our Apprenticeships agenda.]

Categories Apprenticeships

Electrical Apprenticeships – ‘The Knowledge Gap’

My own career as an Electrical Engineer was set at an early age, as the ‘About Us’ page and the recent ‘Every Business Tells a Story’ blog reveals.

As a youngster, I would have Sunday dinner with my grandparents, Gran was a great cook – amazing roasties! Then, Grandad and I would go down to the garage, which was his workshop. There, he would teach me how to make basic circuit boards. The flashing lights and technical applications became second nature to me, even from this young age.

My own professional career began with a 4-year apprenticeship with Building & Mechanical Services.

For those considering a career as an Electrician, who have not had the inspiration and family guidance as I have, the best way to learn is through an apprenticeship. Apprentices work – and earn – full-time for an electrical contractor, plus, take classroom training one day a week.

Three of the apprentices currently enjoying the start of their careers at JGF are Drew, Harry and Harvey. They are in their 3rd, 2nd and 1st years respectively, working 4 days, and in college 1 day a week.

The Knowledge Gap.

We refer to it as ‘The Knowledge Gap’ because what’s being taught at college seems out of date with the technical and social skills needed ‘on the job’.

It’s something we are trying to work on, feeling the need to work more closely with the college to bring 80’s and 90’s dated syllabuses closer to 21st Century goals. Employers (JGF) are genuinely passionate about creating and supporting Apprentice schemes, partly as payback for their own time served as apprentices, and partly to invest in tomorrow’s skilled workers today.

We have designed 2x Apprentice Training Bays, which the guys are building from scratch themselves. They’re designed to focus new skills such as Smart Home Technology, Energy Efficiency, Health & Safety, as well as the core technical requirements of Electrical Contracting.

We hope that college time will help develop some of these skills as well as some of the basics, such as Maths and Algebra.

Closing ‘the Gap’

Over the last couple of years and for the foreseeable future, their Tutors have been unable to visit the guys on site, or spend time with their Mentors to see what ‘on the job’ really means today.

There’s a lot to learn and develop through an apprenticeship. Some of the ‘hidden skills’ are different to what you might expect, for instance:

  • have good eyesight and can see colours clearly
  • have reasonable maths and algebra skills
  • can grasp, manipulate and assemble small objects
  • don’t mind heights and can work on a ladder or aerial lift
  • are comfortable enough in tight places such as attics or crawl spaces (‘in cupboards’ as Lee says he always is!)
  • can lift and move heavy objects, safely
  • have a mechanical aptitude
  • can work both independently and as part of a team
  • can learn to follow systems and procedures
  • have the social skills to interact with others on contract work

Getting Involved

As well as getting involved across a broad range of technical projects, our apprentices develop not just their electrical skills, but core values such as team working, service ethic and analytical thinking.

3 years down the road, Drew knows and shares the enormous values gained through his apprenticeship with JGF. Harry is already a skilled asset and eager to learn more and more. And as for Harvey – well, early days still my friend, but with the encouragement of your peers, mentors and your Father (when out of those cupboards), you will have a great career in this amazing world of Electrical Contracting.

Categories Innovation

Every Business Tells a Story

We know it’s ‘good marketing’ to tell the corporate story, but so often there isn’t a story, so the tale told is a mere chronology of events.

Built on a passion

The business and our story is built on a passion instilled in me by my grandad. His photo is on the windowsill by my desk and his Foreman’s Electrical Diary & Notebook in my desk drawer. More on my grandad – John Gordon Forster – later.

My professional career began with a 4-year apprenticeship with Building & Mechanical Services. It was an amazing opportunity to develop skills and experience across the service range of commercial, high-end domestic, solar, intelligent lighting and electrical design. It also taught me structure; planning and analytical skills; teamwork and leadership.

I registered JGF Electrical & Building Services Limited trading as JGF Electrical in March 2013 – and that’s the only chronological reference I’ll make.

Growth was considered, I didn’t want to run before walking confidently. Nonetheless, growth was rapid. The business has not simply grown in terms of service, skills and capacity; it has grown in corporate maturity too.

I constantly challenge my corporate as well as my personal, emotional orientation, asking – what would grandad think.

‘Investors in People’

Built on my personal experiences and the values I gained as an apprentice, we have developed as ‘Investors in People’, recognising that our ‘people’ are our ‘assets’.

Quality comes through training and opportunities through our own Apprenticeship Programme. On-the-job learning and upskilling, both in our unit and on site, develop more than essential electrical skills. Such learning develops core values too, such as team working, service ethic and analytical thinking.

It is his ‘G’, not mine.

JGF Electrical was named after my Grandad the late John Gordon Forster. It is his ‘G’, not mine.

I remember him fondly. He was a man of great integrity from whom I took inspiration, inspiration on which I still draw the traditional values of the professional gentleman he was.

As a youngster, I would have Sunday dinner with my grandparents, Gran was a great cook – amazing roasties! Then, grandad and I would go down to the garage, which was his workshop. There, he would teach me how to make basic circuit boards. The flashing lights and technical applications became second nature to me, even from this young age.

My grandfather – John G Forster – served as an electrical foreman for over 50 years. He would be 95 now (Autumn 2021). I often open the desk drawer and refer to his meticulously written foreman’s notebook from the 60’s.

It’s nice to see that the fundamentals haven’t changed at all and today, we still practice many of the same principles as he did back then.

Inspiring?

Well of course.

After moving into our new unit and offices in 2021, apprentices, engineers, team leaders, staff and of course customers see and enjoy the benefits of 2x Apprentice Training bays, designed to focus new skills such as Smart Home Technology, Energy Efficiency, Health & Safety, as well as the core technical requirements of Electrical Contracting.

Another date, I know, but it’s a great one. It’s the end of chapter 1 and the start of chapters 2, 3 … etc.