A former professional boxer turned plasterer has shed a light on the frustrations that can slow down the preparation of homes for new customers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom Whitfield has been working on repairs to believe housing homes for 11 years. For most of that time he has been overhauling homes ready for their next customer. An empty home might sound much easier to work on during a Covid-19 lockdown, but that isn’t always the case says Tom.
“The smallest snag can have a massive knock-on effect now. Before coronavirus we’d have jobs where a joiner, a plumber and plasterer would all be needed, and you’d all be there at the same time. Now we can’t do that,” Tom says.
“I went to a home recently and a plumber was still there. He’d found a leak and uncovered more faults than were expected. So I had to leave and go to another home. That would have added at least a day to the job, but that knocks on with every trade – it could suddenly affect every trade needed to finish the home.
“The planners are doing a great job but they don’t have a crystal ball. If a job does take longer, it’s very difficult to catch back up with the current guidance.”
Even a straightforward job takes longer now, due to the extra precautions to combat coronavirus.
“In every home, we wash all surfaces you might have to come into contact with before we start. So that’s at least 15 minutes or so sanitising the surfaces, handles and so on.
“I’ve got four young kids, the last thing I want to do is take coronavirus home to them.”
But Tom is clear that things are improving, and that the backlog of work caused by the initial lockdown is reducing all the time. It’s a full team effort and everyone is working very hard.
“During the first lockdown, in March last year, we could only do emergency work, to help people who were homeless or needed a home urgently for 10 weeks.
“When we first came back, we couldn’t get materials. The plaster factory was still shut down, nobody had any. So we couldn’t do any plastering for about three weeks. We couldn’t get houses complete. It was really difficult.”
But although most materials are available once again, it still takes far longer to get hold of them.
“Getting gear from builder’s merchants and other suppliers takes a lot longer now. You’ve got to queue to get in now, it’s one customer in at a time. Sometimes you can only ‘click and collect’. And of course, lots of people who are not at work are doing their own house up so it’s busier than normal too. Sometimes it can take an hour to queue up to get into a builder’s merchant.”
Tom appreciates just how frustrating it must be for customers who are waiting to get into their new home. “In normal times a customer might come and knock on the door, just to see how things are going. Now things might be taking a fortnight more, they’ll speak to you in the street and say that they were expecting to have their keys by now. All I can do is explain the situation.”
Tom gave up his professional boxing to concentrate on his family, so how does being a key worker during the pandemic affect him personally?
“Just like a lot of people, it’s difficult to deal with work life balance sometimes. I’ve had to take holiday for home schooling. I have difficulties with childcare every now and again. But believe housing always help, I know some places aren’t as understanding.
For me, I can spend five days at work, all day every day and don’t see anyone. It does get lonely. The gym is shut too. The whole thing is frustrating. But we’ve just got to get on with it.”
Director of Property Repairs at believe housing, Rachel Cox, said: “Tom and our other tradespeople are doing a great job in very difficult circumstances. They know, just like I do, that lots of customers are frustrated that things take longer right now – and we all share that. But safety has to be our number one priority.”