When you think of the demolition sector, images of a big black wrecking ball and tonnes of rubble spring readily to mind. In fact, ‘a means to an end’ are often words associated with this industry.

Often seen in the shadows of its more illustrious rivals civil engineering and construction, it’s fair to say it has a somewhat challenging image issue to address. The good news is that the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE) – celebrating its 40th year and buoyed by an increasing membership of over 400 professionals – is in the mood to start changing perceptions.

This was clearly evident during my first visit to an IDE Seminar, a bi-annual gathering to discuss breaking trends, issues and techniques, not to mention a convenient excuse to undertake some important networking over a few pints in the Westminster Arms.  As a relative newcomer to the industry, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought there may be a fair few ‘big blokes’ present and I wasn’t disappointed. However, there were also a smattering of female engineers and some stunning examples of meticulous planning, ground-breaking technology and creative solutions.  Holding all this together was a passion to promote demolition and make it an exciting and attractive career for people to follow.

What struck me straight away is all the things we, the general public, take for granted. We see a building that has gone past its sell-by date and is going to be replaced with an all singing, all dancing new development.  We don’t really care how the old one comes down as long as we get to enjoy the new dream we’ve been sold.  This attitude is doing demolition a massive disservice. The morning presentations proved this very point, with experts from Erith Group and Keltbray Decommissioning talking in great detail about the work, knowledge, skills and understanding of demolition techniques that go into making projects successful.

In the first instance, months of preparation and planning had been deployed into temporary works so that the façade of a prestigious London building can be retained and made safe for the first phase of demolition. Very few people outside the sector will appreciate the difficulty involved in this.  Delegates were even treated to an insight on what it takes to remove a nuclear pipe under the sea and the extreme conditions engineers have to experience whilst working under water.

The afternoon sessions were equally lively, with a captivating talk on the ‘White Mice of Clydebank’ and the asbestos issue affecting the removal of Red Road Flats, so long an icon of Glasgow life. This was followed by the introduction of AutoStem, a cutting-edge alternative to using explosives when looking to break concrete.

We even had one of the most entertaining talks on Occupational Health I’d ever heard from the hilarious Nichola Elvy, MD of Building Health.

All of this provided a great backdrop for the most telling presentation of the day, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the IDE and the University of Wolverhampton to launch the UK’s first ever Demolition Degree.  The only other course like it is currently being delivering in Indiana just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this announcement.  What this basically means, is that existing engineers and newcomers to the sector will be able to study towards a BSc or MSc in demolition from September 2017. 100 places will be up to grabs in the first year, a fifth of which were booked on the day.  Now if ever there was a statement of intent than this was it. Hundreds of unpaid hours have gone into developing the framework and forging the partnership and many more are still required to get it right.  The degree will fill two roles…raise standards within the industry and provide it with a higher education option that means its engineers will ultimately be chartered.

So my debut at a demolition conference was interesting to say the least and I came away with the feeling that the ‘underdog’ was beginning to find its bark again.

However, I thought one veteran summed it up best when he said ‘we clear the past, to make way for your future’. Thankfully for society, they do a pretty good job of it!

Russ Cockburn is Director of Cucumber PR, a full service communications agency based in Shropshire.

Author: Russ Cockburn is Director of Cucumber PR, a full service communications agency based in Shropshire

The content of this article represents the personal views of the author and nothing is to be taken as representing the views, opinions, policy or position of any other persons or organisations mentioned herein or of the Institute of Demolition Engineers.