021 SME Surveyor Business Stories with Rebecca Janman

Rebecca Janman is a construction consultant, building surveyor and Director at Iceni Surveyors LTD, a company based in Suffolk. With 16 years of experience in building regulations, Rebecca has recently started her own business, after being furloughed due to the pandemic lockdown. Marion sat down to chat with her about launching a business, her building control experience and her approach to surveying.

The Lockdown As A Catalyst For Starting Your Own Business

As so many other people in surveying and other professions, Rebecca Janman found herself out of work at the onset of the lockdown. Instead of seeing it as a major drawback, she decided to push herself into starting her own business.

“Some would say it’s an unusual time to start a business. However, I was put on furlough from my previous employer, and it’s something I’ve been toying with for probably the last year or two. The reason I decided to go for it is that I just felt a real lack of control being put on furlough, and I like being busy, so I wanted to get some control back,” says Rebecca. “You get to a stage in your career where you’ve been doing it for a number of years, and you have all the required skill sets, but it’s about having that confidence to get out there, as well as the support of people who’ve done it successfully like Nick Brown.”

The Challenges of Building Regulations

Since not many surveyors and valuers are familiar with the kind of work Rebecca does, we wanted to learn more about her background and career path.

“I started in a planning department and spent seven years there. Then I moved into environmental health, and I did quite a big stint with health and safety, food safety, housing and environmental protection. After I completed my building surveying degree, I went into building control, because I felt that I was weak on the building regs. I had actually only intended to do that for six months to get my skills up, but it continued for 16 years!”

She goes on to explain the challenges of applying the constantly changing building regulations, and how important it is to consider them early in the construction process.

“Building regulations changes always respond to a disaster,” she explains. “Before Grenfell, we had Ronin Point where the corner of a block disappeared due to a gas explosion. That’s where we saw a really big change in the regulations in terms of disproportionate collapse of a tall building, and Grenfell is saying that we’re not at the end of that road yet. There is more change to come, and it’s quite fast paced for people who are not heavily involved in it, you could easily be left behind by the updates. The moment you go for planning, it takes a while, and then you apply the building regulations the day before you start on site. That’s generally what happens, which doesn’t give anybody much time. The access to the fire service is probably the most critical thing that should really be considered at the planning stage, and that will be one of the major changes that’s coming. Some of the bigger layout problems are going to be considered much earlier in the process, and that’s a good thing.”

Bringing Technical Knowledge to Building Surveying

Rebecca has been quite busy since she started her business. We wanted to know what kind of work she has been doing under the lockdown.

“I’ve been doing mostly commercial work, since most of my background is in commercial premises, but also some residential work. I’ve been looking at some student accommodation of flats and conversion into a hotel. I’ve also been doing some warranty inspections on single houses, flats and commercial buildings. With Nick Brown, I’ve been working on a couple of the defect surveys, and that’s been really useful for both of us, because Nick has obviously got more experience on the building surveying side. But what I bring with me is the technical knowledge of the standards and requirements, so we are joining forces on that and it’s working really well. Going forward, the work will probably vary and it will be more building surveying, CDM, party wall, but I think because I’ve spent so long in building control, it’s hard for me to shake it off completely.”

Managing The COVID Risk During The Inspections

Rebecca shares her experience from the construction sites that she has visited during this time, and how the COVID prevention rules are put into practice.

“Anybody who’s been on a construction site will know that the toilets are areas to be avoided at all costs. And there’s dirt and dust and all kinds of materials laying all over the place. Unless you have a one way system on the construction site, it’s really difficult to manage the space distance as well. I was on a final inspection on a block of flats that had a very narrow entrance and there wasn’t a rear escape route. Everybody was supposed to be out whilst I was doing my inspection. I was walking around with one other person, but by the end of the inspection there were probably four or five people back in the building. It led to a point where we were gridlocked in a corridor and trying to work out how we could get past each other, still observing the two meter distancing rule. So it’s very difficult, and I would say that probably the vast majority of standard construction workers don’t really seem to be taking it that seriously, which is concerning. Even the homeowners, they remember it initially, but then they relax and it gets forgotten, so you have to be alert to it the whole time. It’s quite emotionally and mentally draining to do that, because people can be upset if they’re challenged on it. But I think as surveyors we have to really push and enforce the COVID policy.”

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The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 https://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/cdm/2015/index.htm
RICS Home Survey Standard https://www.rics.org/globalassets/rics-website/media/qualify/home-survey-standard-pdf.pdf 
CABE – Chartered Associations of Building Engineers https://cbuilde.com/ 

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