What has Eastenders, Single mums, and China got to do with Timber Frame?

Posted on January 7, 2011 by Professor Benfield There have been 0 comments

So, BBC soap’s Eastender’s latest story about baby snatching draws over 6,000 protests in 24 hours.  Meanwhile, an unemployed single teenage mum complains on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she can’t leave her single bedroom flat, or afford to put her child in care so that she can train as a carer.

Economic Divide

And all this while insomniacs like me learn from the BBC World Service in the middle of the night that China is making such rapid economic progress that within now only 6 years the economic divide between them and the West that began some 300 years ago, will be significantly closed.


Linked to this was, firstly, the report of an ex-pat Brit who determined to settle in Singapore so that his children could benefit from oriental education.  He is now astounded at the progress, determination and hard work of his 5 year old daughter as she strives to keep up with her Singaporean classmates. Secondly, is the recognition by some economic commentators that much of the UK’s ‘slippage’ is due to our abandonment of productive industry in favour of the ‘post-industrial age’ Government belief that service orientated ‘knowledge’ sectors would lead Britain to a rosy new future.


What links all of these together for some people seems to be the idea that as a society we’ve ‘gone soft’. That somehow successive governments have allowed – encouraged us even – to think that the world owed us a living; that we didn’t really have to work to enjoy a range of ‘entitlements’; that it is acceptable to ‘take what we want’ without regard for others; and so on.

And, as the teenage mum was beginning to recognise she “thought she knew best” when deciding to drop out of school at 15, and when she got pregnant (maybe, like others, in order to get a flat?). Echoed across the UK, she also recognised that these attitudes developed throughout her education. Not just the responsibility of her teachers, or her parents, or her other relatives, or her peers, or neighbours – but all of them collectively.

Nature -v- Nurture

By nature humans are a collaborative, inventive, productive species.  By nurture, some argue, many of us have become selfish, dull and lazy individuals with more concern for our ‘human rights’ than our responsibilities to one another.

Timber Construction

How does any of this relate to 21st Century construction and timber buildings?

Well, as the classroom of children in the latest Merecats TV advert chant in unison ‘Simples’.

Affordable Housing

However tenuous it might at first appear, grabbing another parent’s new born child – and protesting about the fictional drama – are both reflections of the Nimbyism (not in my backyard syndrome)  that blocks planning permission for housing, forces up the price of land available for development, and leads to both housing shortages and more and more expensive homes.

Failure, or refusal, to grasp educational opportunities by ‘knowing better’ in favour of easy option ‘entitlements’ has led to both loss and diminishment of, along with many other things, construction skills.

Relaxation, if not abandonment, of collective community care together with a preference for being entertained rather than creatively engaging with others, has passed the burdens of responsibility to ‘them’ - the authorities and the state.

Yet while ‘they’ change the rules and regulate to address Climate Change, it is the bulk of the population that make up the market that must buy into releasing more land for housing, learning and applying the craft and knowledge skills needed to design and build more environmentally sustainable, affordable homes, and choosing these over out-dated ways of building.

Construction's Wider Role

Historically, construction has played an important role in economic regeneration.  Doubtless it can, and should, figure large in getting Britain back to being a productive nation.  And in so doing it could become a vehicle for addressing many of the ills and attitudes that have led us toward falling behind the world’s developing nations, educationally, economically and – potentially – socially.

In all of these areas, environmentally friendly timber framed structures have a real and important role to play.

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