for the NSCC

“I think celebrities given community service should be made to clean construction site toilets,” says Suzannah, who has been flicking through a newspaper account of Boy George’s litter-picking exploits on the streets of New York.

“Ours are already very clean, thank you,” Graham cuts in.

“I doubt even Boy George could help.”

Suzannah is undeterred, however. In fact, she is enjoying a vivid mental image of the drafting of an army of reluctant toilet cleansers, a subject that is surprisingly emotional for her – her voice has by now reached to the pitch of a counter tenor:

“In fact, people who drop litter could be punished in the same way. It’s horrible. Squirrels eat rubber bands and when mice eat chewing gum, it knots around their insides.”

“We’re not going to sit here and talk about squirrels,” Graham interrupts. “What will my workers think of me? They’re tough pilers, I don’t want to be seen discussing furry animals.”

Another reason Graham does not want to get into zoology is closer to home. “I’ve got three teenagers and there are far too many animal noises in my house.” Suzannah, as a new mother, has all this to come, but the subject of children leads her on to the issue of maternity leave.

“If you’re a woman working as a site engineer, you couldn’t be climbing scaffold while you were pregnant. I bet the thought of long maternity leave periods still puts some employers off hiring women.”

“It’s an issue for fathers now too,” says Simon, “And with paternity leave, it will be an issue in construction, particularly for small businesses.” But then the businessman gives way to the concerned parent. “I don’t mind admitting I should have done more with my own children,” he says.

“I don’t help out enough.”

“We’re far more conscious of a work–life balance now; things are starting to change,” adds Suzannah.

“Don’t talk to Graham about balance,” Simon warns. “He fell off his motorbike the other day. Look at his finger. It’s freakish.”

Everyone gasps in horror at Graham’s finger, which is indeed worryingly misshapen. Suzannah is particularly affected and switches back to the obstacles to combining a career in construction with parenthood.

“If you’re lucky, you get the support of your colleagues. But the industry is so poor on planning … if you’re a site worker you’re expected to be there pouring concrete in the dark. Our industry just isn’t as flexible as it should be. How many parents, who have to drive 60 miles to get to work at 7am, ever have breakfast with their kids?”

Those present …

  • Suzannah Nichol chief executive of the National Specialist Contractors Council
  • Graham Wren president
  • Simon Bottomley president-elect
  • Sarah Richardson Building magazine

  • Chosen watering hole: Mal Maison in the City 
  • Ambience: Posh wine bar, dark, no windows … good place to arrange a shady business deal 
  • Drinks drunk: one bottle of chardonnay and three pints of Guinness