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Seneca wall: the art of reimagining waste

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When Brent Council offered Carey Group’s Seneca the opportunity to paint a mural with the help of the community, they jumped at the chance to ‘reimagine waste as a resource’.


Those who commute between Baker Street, Marylebone and routes via Harrow-on-the-Hill in London cannot fail to notice a series of imaginative murals running down one side of a vast warehouse alongside the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines. They show different visions of recycling and its impact in the future.

In 2011 Brent council approached Seneca, a materials recovery facility (MRF), a waste management business  part of the Carey Group, to discuss the clean up the mass of graffiti along rail routes into London (in this case the wall of Seneca’s facilities) through a creative solution that would deter future vandalism.

John Carey Jr, group director and managing director of Carey’s Seneca business, takes up the story: “Brent council was concerned, like us, about the extent of graffiti on properties adjoining a railway line that would be taking spectators to one of the main London Olympic venues, Wembley Stadium. It was not only graffiti that was the problem; the people doing the graffiti were getting on to the roof of our building and seriously endangering themselves.

 “Despite our extensive preventative measures the problem was not going away and the risk of serious injury was growing. The idea of the mural was intended to help us engage with the local community and display imaginative modern street art that would have the respect of people generally and the graffiti artists in particular. The decision to make this unsightly wall into one of the biggest pieces of art in Great Britain was right for so many reasons.”

The series of murals depict Seneca’s mission of ‘reimagining waste as a resource’. The mural, unveiled in 2012, was created by people from the local community, the UK and from abroad.

Shaun Rowberry, Carey’s head of business development and marketing, pays credit to the dedication of the contributing artists, young and old, professional and amateur: “We provided all of the materials, the working environment and all sorts of support, but in the end those people who contributed to the project, including pupils from local schools, did so because of the theme. They saw what Seneca was about and they willingly gave us their time and creativity. It took six months to create the series of murals. We are exceptionally proud and inspired by what has been achieved.”

John summed up: “It represents the efforts of many; from very young school children to revered graffiti artists. They all got it. It symbolises the need to look at problems differently, to think differently and produce innovative solutions. The mural represents a great cause delivered by great people.”

45 years of growth
Carey Group, a long standing member of the British Safety Council, has undergone significant changes since it was founded 45 years ago, but it remains at heart a family business that has retained its core values and ethos. Its roots remain firmly in construction, but the business has grown and diversified. This has included acquisitions of demolition company, TE Scudder Ltd in 1981 and drylining business BDL in 2013. Furthermore, in 2009, the Carey Group founded waste management business Seneca, and more recently created asbestos removal specialists ION Environmental Solutions.

Founded in 1969 by the current chairman, John Carey Snr, and his two brothers Pat and Tom, the vision was simple but audacious: “to build an exceptional civil engineering business that delivers on its promises, produces quality work safely and does not lose sight of strong personal ethics and values.”

The leadership team of the company may have changed over the intervening four decades but the values remain. John Carey Jr, explains: “The company started as a small contractor working from a van, building up to where it is now: a £250m turnover construction group that employs 1,200 people. The business has always been led by the three brothers, and now there are also three cousins; I am one of them. What we want to do is continue to grow the business, but not chase turnover. We need to carefully navigate our way out of recession, proceeding with focus and caution.”

The Carey Group has come a long way since PJ Carey (Contractors) Ltd started out as a groundwork contractor based in north-west London. The group’s demolition and civil engineering businesses have played a major role in the UK’s development of major food retail stores and facilities over the past 30 years. The company notes with pride that, “it has delivered more civil engineering contracts than any other civil contractor in this market and has maintained strong business relationships with its major retail clients and construction partners, to this day”.

Having played a pivotal role in the development and expansion of Milton Keynes during the 80s and 90s, Carey Group continues to be a leading contractor in the delivery of infrastructure projects across the UK and Ireland. It was one of many contractors who worked on the construction of the London 2012 Olympic Games venues and supporting infrastructure. The company is particularly proud it delivered over 20 different major construction projects. It was the principal contractor on the construction of the combined cooling, heat and power energy centre located within the Olympic Park supplying heat, power and chilled water to all the Olympic venues.

The Carey vision
The company’s vision is to continually evolve its integrated service capability through a self-delivery model. It is committed to building and maintaining lasting relationships with its clients, sub-contractors and suppliers. The business model is based upon self-delivery and managing construction risks, not transferring the risks to others.

The success of the company is dependent on creating and sustaining an environment where it capitalises on the talent and commitment of its employees, allowing them to fulfil their full potential. It includes continual investment in the staff, providing the best equipment and training possible.

The Olympic legacy
Carey’s involvement in the successful and safe delivery of key construction projects for London 2012 Olympics has produced an important legacy. John Carey Jr recognises that the company has taken a lot of value from the London Olympics on how work is approached and how safety is managed: “Safety expectations and standards on the Olympic contracts were incredibly high, and clearly higher than industry standards prior to the games. With the pressure to perform at that level removed it would be easy for contractors to return to their old ways of working, but we have chosen to strive for higher standards.”

John continues, “However, the pursuit of delivering ever improving standards comes with commercial and competitive pressures. We have built upon the lessons and processes at the Olympics and will drive these standards through the business. We look to differentiate ourselves from our competitors by making clear that by working with us they are going to get a safer contractor and a better product. But while this is exactly what every client wants to hear, we all need to compete on price. The benefits, including increased safety, quality and efficiency, have to be balanced by the costs. If the construction community can carry the culture of the London Olympics forward we are certain that it will ultimately translate into better value.”

Shaun Rowberry echoed John’s comments concerning the Olympic legacy: “Our involvement was a great experience, and out of that came much improved practices such as our behavioural safety programme, Safe Home Every Day (SHED). SHED is not solely about improving health and safety, it is about changing behaviour on site, about doing things correctly and working far more collectively and collaboratively. The underlying goal is for the project team to strive to improve. Our first thought and the thought of every man and every woman on site should be ‘Safe Home Every Day’. The ethos is the importance of camaraderie, looking after your mate and working as part of a team. This is what keeps us safe.”

In 2012, Carey’s accident frequency rate (AFR) was 0.19. There was just one reportable injury to an employee in 2012 and 82 minor injuries requiring first aid.

Ken Doran, general manager of Seneca, reinforced the importance of teamwork and togetherness: “What became clear to me very soon after taking up the post at our Wembley MRF was the poor interaction between different nationalities; all ate separately and did not seem to communicate. I was insistent that we had to break down the silos. We had to have the guys communicating and working in a more integrated way irrespective of nationality or culture. They are now and that has made a huge difference. That comes from the shared ethos which we have instilled in the workforce; we are all here to work safely and look after each other. How do you look after one another if you don’t talk to one another?”

The Seneca waste business
Over the past decade the Carey Group has developed a portfolio of projects across numerous sectors including commercial, residential, retail and energy. Major projects the company has delivered include central London high-rise developments, combined heat and power plants, wind farms and biomass plants. These projects cut across the business combining the company’s expertise in demolition, civil engineering, concrete structures and more recently drylining and waste management.

 In 2009 the company redeveloped a disused warehouse and site to build a modern MRF in Wembley, London. The facility processes non-recyclable residual industrial and commercial waste, including wood. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has the potential to process 1.1m tonnes of waste per annum. Most of the waste is converted into fuel that is used to generate power at plants, including one in Holland. Some of the waste is recycled and re-used.

John Carey Jr spelt out the business driver on the decision to move into waste: “It was clear that waste had to be better managed going forward. We were looking to deal with the waste generated through our business, and landfill was an unacceptable option. There was the potential to recycle and deal with waste in a different way. There is a strong case that we are adding value to the Carey Group by recycling our construction and demolition materials and reprocessing our waste into refuse - derived fuel and in the process we no longer send any waste to landfill.”

For Ken Doran, the challenges are clear: “We offer an alternative solution to landfill, but the economics have to be right, because if they are not, landfill will remain the chosen option for many. No matter how good companies want to be, including being socially responsible, the bottom line is pounds and euros. Our relationship with waste clients, including the six London boroughs with whom we have contracts to process their municipal waste, is built on trust. We are here for the longer term. The waste to energy industry can be fragile and suffers from speculative spot market pricing and seasonality. Our supply agreements enable us to offer a year-round solution.

“It took some convincing to ensure one of our waste clients that none of the waste they sent went to landfill, but that is our business; we engineer waste into fuel. A claim by some recyclers of ‘zero to landfill’ is like timeshare selling. The reality is somewhat different down the line.

“At the end of the day we are making a product. This product takes engineering know how. The application of that engineering know how requires discipline and discipline is not there in some waste businesses. You can take any amount of waste material and bring it together; if it does not meet the classification and specification requirements set down by the energy from waste plants, it is not an acceptable product and remains as waste. It has no value and potentially ends up fly tipped in a farmer’s field.”

As John made clear, despite being in an industry built upon quick fixes and short-term solutions, “we are looking for long-term contracts to ensure a continuing quality service and one that can help clients manage their costs. We want to help them work in a more structured and responsible way.”

Seneca wall is just one of the ways in which Carey’s Seneca try to promote this long-term vision.

 

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