2020. I think we have run out of words to describe the dumpster fire of a year that has felt like a decade in itself. It has tested each and every one of us in all sorts of ways and upended regular life for far longer than we hoped it would. With good news about the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, it looks like we may be able to look forward to normal life in 2021 by the summer, or even late Spring if everything goes well.

So as we begin a new year with hope on the horizon, I want to take a personal and professional look back at the last 12 months.

A crisis to mark generations

The word “crisis” is used far too much. It’s used to describe almost anything that takes a wobble. This time though, the pandemic was a crisis. A focal point in time playing out in front of us. Every aspect of regular life grinding to a halt in March as the country was placed into lockdown in response to a problem we last experienced over 100 years ago with the Spanish Flu. Work in the fenestration sector largely stopped, as did most of the economy as we were all told to stay at home to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

We spent the next two months at home. At first, worried. Wondering whether we would have businesses to go back to. Concerned about our own health and the health of our family and friends. But whilst we struggled to comprehend the scale of the crisis unfolding, the silver lining we were given was a near-perfect spring and summer. Our time spent at home was made much easier with warm temperatures and sunny skies. Those with gardens were able to to enjoy them nearly every day, I know I did. Having regular BBQs and letting younger ones burn off some energy outside. Of course, not everyone had green space to take advantage of. Small families and single parents in apartments found this time very hard as free space was hard to come by.

As we began to get used to daily Government briefings, weekly claps for the NHS and health care workers and new ways of working, the reality of the situation began to settle in. Words such as “unprecedented” plagued everything we read. Pandemic language filtered into everything after that. “Waves”, “surges”, “peaks” and others became normal ways to describe regular topics.

It was 2020 and technology, of course, played its role. It allowed businesses, including fenestration, to adapt in such rapid time and speed, helping installers and indeed all other businesses in the supply chain to keep business moving. Changes have been made that won’t be rolled back. Things like virtual showrooms, online stores and much more helped join the supply chain together. A decade’s worth of change happened in a matter of months and proved that when pushed, we can adapt and evolve when needed.

But whilst tech helped us to keep moving, we also saw the worst of it. Social media, for all the good it has done to bring the world closer, turned into one of the worst places to spend your free time. Social media turned into a place where fake news and what seemed anti-everything information spread like wildfire. Where society began to openly question and troll the very people risking their own lives to keep ours safe. The doctors and nurses, the scientists, the experts that we rely on to save lives were questioned on their motives, accused of being Government mouthpieces, and in many cases, simply lying. It was shameful, and no way to repay their efforts in treating the tens of thousands that have passed through our hospitals with this virus. For me, it was depressing. One thing I will be doing less of in 2021 is scrolling through social media. I’ve enjoyed not using it so much over Christmas and other than DGB related posts will use it less.

Industry adaptability

I have long been an advocate for change in our industry. We’re not the most technologically advanced or the most forward thinking. Other sectors in the economy are strides ahead in that regard. However, with the pandemic, our industry had no other choice but to adapt simply in order to function.

On mass, our sector embraced technology and new ways of working to reach their client base and keep revenue coming in. Changes that really shouldn’t have needed a crisis to make happen. Such a creating more video work. Using software to streamline processes. Utilising the professional side of social media better. Working from home or at the very least more flexible working conditions. Now these changes have been made many won’t be rolled back. Quite rightly. Many upgrades to the way we work have been needed for a long time and there remains much more to do to bring our sector up to speed with the way work is done in 2021. But I hope that we now see the benefit of new ideas, new tech and new flexibility and we build on that in the months and years to come.

Togetherness…in part

Cast your mind back to March. All the uncertainty, the fear, the worry. The sheer size of the crisis at hand. It struck me that as an industry, at least for a temporary period, we managed to come together as an industry. During my time in this sector, which spans nearly half my lifetime, I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a period where our sector has managed to set aside differences and cliques and work for the common good. But we did at the start of the pandemic.

A genuine community spirit that saw rivals set aside their competitive inclinations. Unlikely groups forming over Zoom and other platforms to try to chart a path through the crisis. Despite the chaos going on around us all, it was a welcome period of stability.

However, it did not last all that long. Tribal tendencies crept back in. You could sense the spirit of togetherness begin to ebb away as the weeks dragged on and the collective effort to do go became, in parts of the sector, a virtual signalling contest. Not in all parts I’ll add. Some companies and people continued to do amazing things in the effort to help where they could. Liniar put their 3D printers to work to help create tens of thousands of face shields. Glazpart were providing components that went into ventilation equipment. Morley Glass continue to invest heavily in virtual showrooms for installers, at no expense to the installer. Masterframe has funded a number of virtual showrooms for their network of installers, again at no expense to the installer.

Towards the middle part of the crisis it was clear that the industry had gone back to being what it was. It was sad to see. As I said to an industry friend of mine the other day, the more we work together the more we can offer each other. Something to consider as we start the New Year.

A mental battle

I have no shame in saying this year for me was hard. Damned hard. As it was for many of us. The mental health of us all took a battering and I am bold enough to admit that there were some periods, days, weeks, where getting out of bed was very hard. Where the idea of hiding under the duvet was my preferred option.

2020 for me was the hardest year to endure. Not just because of the pandemic directly, although that obviously played a part. But the after-effects of it were just as draining, if not more so. The insane demand we came back to in May was nice at first, but it quickly became obvious that the levels of business we were operating on were not sustainable. The entire sector was overselling, with lead times being measures in months, not weeks. Stress levels across the board were far too high. Everyone I spoke to was miserable, run-down, stressed and generally very unhappy. Brisk business is good, but is it worth working yourself into the ground for? Is it worth making yourself ill over? Losing sleep? Eating poorly? Drinking too much? No, it’s not. If there is one thing we have learned during the pandemic is that health is above all else and if you don’t have that you literally have nothing.

For 2021 I would like us to see our approach to work change. Work hard during the week, be as productive as possible. But on an evening or a weekend, put the work down. It gets done when it gets done. Those moments of free time need to be used to recharge and switch off from the pressures of work. If you fail to do that, which I certainly failed to do last year, you own standard of life will suffer as a consequence. We work to live, not the other way around.

New opportunities

Last year was a train wreck. A year that felt as long as a decade. That being said, there were some positive points for myself. I made some new connections where I had none. Regular phone calls to new and existing industry friends cemented those ties and I feel better off for it.

I also started FENEX with my friend and business partner. The industry’s first virtual trade show. An idea that was coming, but accelerated due to the circumstances. It was a well-received idea and has got off to a great start. It’s not been without its juvenile responses by some, but this is UK fenestration so that’s normal.

DGB had its best-ever year as more people spent time online. The news flow for 2020 was insane as you would imagine, so the sheer volume of topics to cover was almost endless, even fatiguing. But, this site now stands on an even better footing to propel forwards.

At the day job selling windows, we surpassed our revised 2020 targets and ended the year not that far off our original target. Which given what had happened during the year was a far better end result than we could have hoped to get.

The NFAs cemented their position as the primary sector awards as it announced the 2020 winners in a landmark simultaneous video and social media broadcast. Something that had never been done in the industry before but was incredibly successful and will be a blueprint for others to follow in the years to come.

A year to remember, then forget

The projects I am involved with have all gone well last year. Certainly can’t complain about that. Does that make up for the horrific year that went by? No.

Weeks stuck indoors, unable to see friends and family. Business demand way higher than is reasonable to cope with. Constantly changing restrictions. Worry, stress, anxiety. 2020 will be a year that will be taught in schools, and something we’ll be telling our children about. But its also a year many of us will want to forget. No one will have been sad to see the end of 2020.

I could end this with something profound to say. Something poetic. Instead, I want to say a personal thank you to all our key workers who have helped keep this country going during the pandemic. All our healthcare workers across all sectors. Delivery drivers. Supermarket workers. Pharmacists. Police. The armed forces that have helped in any way they can. Us regular folk owe a lot to these people. So as we enter a new year, let’s spare a thought for those who continue to work tirelessly to keep the UK functioning. 2021 will still be a year where we’re dealing with this pandemic, but it will also be the year where we begin to heal. To hopefully return to some kind of regular programming. To bounce back after one of the hardest falls. To help each other.

I wish you all a healthy, safe and prosperous 2021.

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