In conversation with: Luke Brooker helps support wellbeing on our development sites
In conversation with Luke Brooker, Senior Project Manager at Unite Students.
He spoke to us about his role, mental health, wellbeing initiatives onsite and overcoming practical challenges to deliver these.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your role at Unite Students?
I’m a Senior Project Manager at Unite Students and have been with the business for around five years. One key area of focus for me is driving the wellbeing agenda – ensuring we have measures in place to promote the physical and mental welfare of all our onsite construction staff.
Q: What prompted your interest in wellbeing?
The wider conversation around mental health has opened up over the last few years but the construction industry as a whole continues to lag somewhat. The statistics are pretty shocking. At present, men in the UK are three times more likely to die by suicide than women and in construction, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than the national average for men.
I come from a construction background – as a former electrician – so I understand the risk factors and potential trigger points when it comes to mental health – the temporary nature of project work, the sometimes long hours and the time away from home, for example.
I’m interested in how we address these issues and in ensuring everyone has access to support when and if they need it.
Q: Can you give a bit of background on the wellbeing programme – what are some of the initiatives Unite Students already has in place around mental health?
Unite Students has already made some great progress in this space.
The current programme really kicked off in 2019, following a British Safety Council audit. We achieved a 5-star rating overall, which is great – but we used the process to really look at our systems and identity where there might be scope to further bolster wellbeing onsite.
Since then, we’ve taken action. Developing partnerships and bringing in outside expertise has been really key. We’ve been trialling Employee Assistance Programmes and have also signed up as a member to Mates in Mind – a British Safety Council affiliated charity, committed to tackling the mental health crisis across the construction industry. The organisation allows us to offer a helpline, as well as in-depth training courses, designed to help staff spot the signs of mental illness or distress. We’re now exploring new collaborations and are currently in conversation with ManGang, for example – an organisation that connects men working in the industry, encouraging open and frank conversation around mental health.
In terms of next steps, we’re in the process of kicking off a full gap analysis with the British Safety Council. This will involve a more thorough assessment of all live construction sites, to identify where we might want to take further action on wellbeing. We work with a number of different partners and suppliers across our sites, so ensuring all are aligned on this issue and standards are consistent will be key.
Q- And has there been anything new introduced on the physical wellbeing side?
We’ve simultaneously kept up our focus on physical wellbeing and safety, of course – as that goes hand-in-hand with good mental health.
We’ve recently introduced onsite health screenings, prizes for staff who come up with innovative safety solutions and also invited in inspiring guest speakers to talk on keeping safe – including Jason Anker, a former construction worker now paralysed due to an avoidable incident, which took place while he was working on a house in 1993.
Q: What are some of the challenges involved when it comes to driving the wellbeing programme?
Culturally there is still a lot of resistance to speaking openly about mental health, so engagement can be a challenge. It’s been about trial and error – finding the programmes and support that our staff connect with and feel comfortable using.
Q: With multiple partners and sites, there are lots of different parties involved here – how do lines of communication work?
We work closely with partners to ensure standards are kept high across all sites and our forthcoming British Safety Council gap analysis will allow us to drive even greater consistency here.
We currently run regular forums, which bring together partners from across our sites, to discuss key issues, including wellbeing. These are a great chance to share insight and any onsite innovations, which others can learn from.
Overall, we encourage open conversation. This isn’t just about us imposing initiatives top-down- if it’s going to work, it has to be about collaboration.