Seymour Leading the Way in “This is Civil Engineering” Campaign with the ICE

This is Civil Engineering

A flood alleviation site on Tyneside is the latest project in the North East to fly the flag on a new industry campaign to highlight civil engineering and its value to society.

The Chairman of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East, Derek Smith, unveiled the ‘This Is Civil Engineering’ banners across the flood alleviation site in Hebburn which, when complete, will reduce the risk of flooding to 21 homes.

‘This Is Civil Engineering’ is a campaign devised by ICE to encourage public awareness of the work involved in designing and supporting the infrastructure which is all around them and which may otherwise go unnoticed.

The scheme in Mountbatten Avenue is being developed by Seymour Civil Engineering Contractors on behalf of Northumbrian Water. It is the first of four where the firm has committed to showcase the campaign.

‘This Is Civil Engineering’ banners are displayed during projects and immediately following completion of works. The banners feature a QR code linked to a dedicated page on the ICE website that explains what civil engineering is and what civil engineers do. The page also contains links to more detailed civil engineering information and navigation to the rest of the ICE website for those interested in becoming civil engineers.

Derek Smith, Chairman of ICE North East said:

“We are very proud of everything civil engineering contributes to the North East and we are delighted to be working with Seymour Civil Engineering on these important projects across the region.

“We are grateful to Seymour for supporting this initiative and we know there are more firms looking forward to getting involved and helping us to highlight the variety and importance of civil engineering to the general public.

“Most of us take for granted the contribution that civil engineering makes to society, but there is a very true saying, that ‘when you understand civil engineering, you see the world differently’. This is what this campaign aims to illustrate.”

Kevin Byrne, Managing Director of Seymour CEC said:

“Seymour are proud to be leading the way in supporting the “This is Civil Engineering” campaign. Often it’s only when infrastructure fails or is compromised that the industry’s importance is recognised.”

“We need more graduates and youngsters to enter the industry and the ICE campaign is an excellent way to raise awareness.”

Image above (L-R): Kevin Byrne, Managing Director, Seymour Civil Engineering Contractors Ltd, Andy McLaren, Investment Delivery Team Leader at Northumbrian Water, and Derek Smith, Chairman, ICE North East.

Just an Hour………..Cleaning the Dene!

MePhoto 19-03-2014 08 30 49mbers of the Investment Delivery and Corporate Affairs teams at Northumbrian Water joined forces with colleagues from MWH, AMEC and Seymour Civil Engineering to carry out a clean-up operation in Sugley Dene.

The team of 20 worked with the Friends of Sugley Dene, a team of volunteers who carry out maintenance to the park on a monthly basis, and got their hands dirty to give the park a bit of TLC.

Sugley Dene park is located in Lemington in Newcastle upon Tyne and has suffered from littering, fly tipping and damage as a result of the heavy rainfall we’ve experienced over the last few months.

As The Main Event cleaning programme has been working in this area, the team were keen to get involved with a community project to give something back. It is important to the team that communities benefit from projects and volunteering as well as having top quality tap water for the future.

The team spent the day on a number of projects including;

  • clearing overgrown walkways through the park
  • litter picking
  • repairing pathways
  • painting railings
  • clearing fly tipping from the Dene

During the clear up, a mattress, car exhaust and roll of carpet was removed from the Dene along with ten bin-bags worth of litter.

Seymour also provided 60 tonnes of gravel to repair the freshly cleared pathways along with mini-diggers and dumper trucks.

Northumbrian Water would like to say thank you to all that took part as there was a lot of hard ‘graft’ involved, it was a great team effort and the Friends of the Dene are overwhelmed with the progress. Geoff from the Friends said “It would have taken us several years to get the same amount of work completed.”

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Kielder Quest Raises Thousands!

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An annual corporate fundraiser has been hailed as a great success after raising £5,700 to support services for disabled people, their families and carers.

Calvert Trust Kielder welcomed nine teams, including Northumbrian Water, Seymour Civil Engineering and UBS Wealth Management, for the ‘Kielder Quest’ challenge which involved physical and mental water and land based activities.

Teams of six battled through the instructor-led challenges, including Splash Dash, Plankety Blank and Jelly Legs, in a bid to take home the coveted first prize and Kielder Quest trophy.

Team Seymour came third in the event and hopes to take part next year and go for Gold!

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Flood Fighting Kevin Byrne!

Kevin ByrneHow fortunate the North East has been – avoiding those nightmare floods and their aftermath elsewhere. But Kevin Byrne is under no illusion our region’s out of danger for good.

Byrne, whose company has saved hundreds of North East homes from such miseries and heartbreak in recent years – and whose flood alleviation makes every cloud someone’s silver lining – recalls Morpeth, Hexham and Newburn as having all been through it recently.

“There’s no room for complacency,” he declares. “I’m no supporter of theories that danger from water are all down to global warming. I believe it’s caused more by society’s ways in development – our abilities to concrete over everything for example. There’s no soak time in the fields now. We create the problem.”

Seymour Civil Engineering at Hartlepool, where Byrne is managing director, has been relieving or protecting Tyneside homes at Shiremoor, Longbenton and South Shields, and Cleveland homes at Loftus.

Byrne, who gained the helm in 2012 after 23 years with Seymour, says: “We joke that we’re so proud of our work as civil engineers that we bury it.

“We have structures underground you’d only recognise from seeing four manhole covers.

“Yet underneath will be something the size of four Olympic swimming pools storing water for release at a rate nature can cope with.

“The foresight of Victorian engineers was incredible. Capacity they created with vision was outstanding. But sewers not maintained and kept clean and efficient are effectively choked arteries.”

Coastal erosion menaces too. Here Seymour’s skills have safeguarded Berwick, Seaton Carew and Hartlepool. “All tidal work is fraught with dangers,” he points out, “both in safety and inundation. They’re the most critically planned jobs we do. Working with tides, you can’t do nine to five.”

Significantly, one of Seymour’s sibling companies in the parent Renew Group (in business since 1786) has the job of restoring the Devon-Cornwall mainline rail link recently washed away by the angry sea.

Is “pro-active” the watchword? Should alleviation be tackled before crises threaten? Yes, says Byrne. Northumbrian Water (NWL), providing about 70% of Seymour’s workload, is constantly tracking sub-surface blockages.

“They’re on record as best provider in the UK. Not everyone’s like them,” he regrets. “We’re often the contractor delivering a solution worked up by consulting engineers engaged by NWL after a catastrophic flood, such as on Thunder Thursday, when Newcastle Quayside was submerged two years ago.”

To protect homes and premises, several solutions will be considered, taking in topography and other physical constraints. The goal’s long life and low maintenance cost, hence pumping’s avoided if possible.

Seymour’s turnover is around £30m, against £2.5m when Byrne joined in 1989. Annual capital investment is £750,000, spent on new and innovative plant, especially for trunk mains cleansing.

Cleaning a stretch of mains pipe that once took three weeks can now be done in a day. How?

“We’re with a specialist sub-contractor who has developed an ice pigging process. They send a closely controlled slug of slushed ice through the pipeline. The detritus it removes from the pipe walls is absorbed into the ice. Clean ice in, dirty ice out.”

Twenty more staff will join 204 existing shortly. A former family firm taken over in 2007, Seymour runs as an autonomous profit centre, ruled at arm’s length depending on success. Being in a larger group, Byrne says, offers additional professional expertise, financial muscle for borrowing, and opportunities for service sharing. “We’re regarded as the civil engineer within the group,” he explains.

Seymour’s many awards have included a unique double – two top regional honours in the same year for its ending of flood misery that haunted residents of Newlands Court in South Shields. Do such kudos prosper a business? Or are they vanity trinkets? Byrne says: “They help win contracts. Our workforces enjoy the success and it develops healthy competition, showing the market our ability to deliver quality.”

Distinguished projects above ground have recently included restoring Sunniside Gardens in Sunderland as a public plaza, Saltburn promenade, heritage sites at Hartlepool – and remediation and construction at Grade I listed Cragside, the Rothbury home of Lord Armstrong, visionary inventor, scientist, engineer and businessman.

Byrne says: “Among other things there we rebuilt a water cascade that collapsed, I think, in 1926. We’ve done quite a bit for the National Trust – always interesting. We’ve a select team who enjoy that sort of work.”

Hence a benefit of employing only direct labour. “That way, I can sell a product I’m comfortable I can deliver. We offer job security despite vagaries of the market and have little turnover of staff. When the market reeled, we had to release people – very difficult – but we’re back up to strength. We will engage specialist sub-contractors, though.”

The industry’s next big challenge? “Skills shortage across the board. Massive experience has been lost over seven years. People returning now would meet an extremely technological age. I’m afraid some wouldn’t know what to do if the batteries ran out.”

To publicise sector opportunities, Seymour was first to sign up to ICE’s This is Civil Engineering campaign. Through Business in the Community, engagement is also made with schools, sports clubs and the local hospice, “Often it’s only when infrastructure fails or is compromised that the industry’s importance is recognised,” Byrne observes. “We want more graduates and youngsters with a mechanical bent. There’s no bar to career progress.”

He was lucky. “As a young guy from college I was on to building a liquefied natural gas plant at Isle of Grain in Kent. I had five fabulous years, gaining experience in almost every technique there. The project was in excess of £100m – in 1978. I was blessed – surrounded by fabulous workpeople. Didn’t think so at the time when they were shouting at me though…

“But I was taught by engineers and tradesmen, many of them Second World War ex-servicemen. Their candour, attitude and resourcefulness in looking out for one another, and their ability to train you without realising it, has been lost a bit.

“We may depend more on training programmes and competency reliance rather than direct mentoring now. But where we once engaged young people as trainee engineers they’re now known as management trainees, exposed to every department. If they love doing something in particular we’ll try to fit them there if we think that’s right for them. Business suit or boiler suit – all are equally viewed.”

Blackburn-born Byrne, now 55, may have a flash car and a nice home shared with his wife and two sons near Sedgefield. But he too continues to develop, having recently worked to become a Fellow of the ICE – “the ultimate accolade,” he suggests. “I never thought years ago I’d achieve that. But I’ve always wanted to progress as far as I could.”

Soon after becoming a director in 1996 he had responsibility for health and safety and became chartered in it – and still gives time to it.

“It’s a desire to get everybody home safely in the same condition they arrived at work in the morning,” he explains.

On setting out as a trainee/surveyor 36 years ago at 19, did he imagine he’d ever be a managing director?

“Not at all. But I was always driven.”