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Half A Costain Century

Team Seeks Low-Carbon Supply Chain

24 November 2015

It’s rare these days to stay with the same company for your entire working life, but Joe Umbers has chalked up a remarkable 50 years with Costain.

The Beatles and Rolling Stones were storming the charts and Mary Quant was setting the high street on fire with her miniskirts when the 15-year-old Joe first set foot on a building site, undertaking that vital on-site role – brewing up.

“I was a ‘can lad’, making tea for the men and keeping the offices clean on a job at Liverpool Maternity Hospital. I then moved into the office as site clerk on various projects, either on-site or in the main office, which was in Liverpool."

Joe was employed by R Costain & Sons of Liverpool Ltd., where formality was still very much to the fore: “They used to tell us off for saying ‘Richard’ Costain,” he recalls. “It was only around 1978 when R Costain & Sons was taken under the umbrella of the Costain Group.”

Five decades is a long time, so it is perhaps hardly surprising that, when asked what has changed most in the job, he says: “Basically, all of it!

“Obviously, health and safety has changed dramatically. As we say in Costain, ‘You can’t put a price on safety.’”

And the way in which prefabrication and off-site construction was becoming more prevalent was brought home to him when working on the Manchester Airport Radisson Hotel in the late 1990s when he saw complete bathroom pods being slotted into rooms, rather than having staff painstakingly laying tiles on site. “A couple of hoses connected up, and that was it.”

From his personal perspective on the financial side of jobs – he is currently Project Accountant on the Friargate Bridge project in Coventry and also looks after several other jobs in the area as part of the Asset Support Framework – he recalls huge changes from the days of entering every financial detail in a ledger.

He then moved on to ‘dumb terminals’, into which he punched in information that was recorded on a disk on-site before ‘real’ computers came along.

Over the years, he has worked on virtually every type of job handled by Costain, from motorways to water treatment works and hospitals. “All the projects are different in their own ways. The job I do doesn’t change, but the project I’m doing it for, does. We’re obviously much more diversified than we were. There’s a lot of M&E work rather than civils.”

Joe hit the 50-year mark in October, by which time he was 66. “The longer it goes on, the more I think about finishing up, but, well, I don’t know yet.”

One thing that would be welcome, however, is an end to the early Monday morning drives from his home in Liverpool down to Coventry. Perhaps just one more job a little closer to home would be a fitting swansong.




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