How agency life led me to the bronze age

  • Industry Viewpoint

I’m standing on a 6.5 hectare rectangle of excavated chalk in the village of Burwell in Cambridgeshire. Circling me is a trench dug three thousand years ago by a late bronze age settlement. I am being told that, in a pit to my left, lay the skeleton of an important villager. The Parish Council, here on visit, look excited at the prospect of the history on their doorstep. Searching despairingly for some shade from the thirty-degree heat, it dawns on me that I am on the first day of my week at a construction specialist marketing agency. Hard hats, site boots and hi-vis? Who knew that agency life not only extended beyond the office, but three thousand years into the past?

Let me introduce myself

Maybe I need to take a few steps back and introduce myself. I’m Alasdair. I’m about to go into my final year at the University of York, studying English Literature, and, whilst I have a few months off, I have taken the opportunity to work a week at Fabrick. Being on the writerlier side of the spectrum (not to raise your expectations for this blog), the chance to be around the various internal teams the agency has (copywriting, creative, digital content, digital development, account management etc.) there was enough to get me on a train down to the South East. Whether it be writing PR copy, working with the digital content team on social media schedules or getting involved with the mysterious world of SEO, I was excited to get my hands dirty. What I wasn’t expecting, of course, was to actually be getting my hands dirty.

The weird and wonderful

Before leaving, David Ing, Fabrick’s MD, prepped me for a day that was going to be, in his allusive words, ‘weird and wonderful’. We were heading around the M25 towards Cambridgeshire, visiting the site of developer This Land’s latest housing project. There are plans to build 350 new homes with lots of open green space, enhancing biodiversity as well as supplying much-needed housing in a county (and country) short of the quota. As there are worse places to be on a summer’s day than the Cambridgeshire countryside, I was excited to have a nose around, maybe a builder’s tea, with the chance to get to know one of the projects Fabrick is helping to move forward. With all of the typical construction stereotypes in mind, you can imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a team of archaeologists on hands and knees scouring the ground for signs of an ancient settlement. Weird and wonderful wasn’t too far off the mark.

Change of perception

Time to update my idea of what construction is really about. Gone are the days (if they ever existed in the first place) of land being bought and houses being constructed. Yes, we need houses, and lots of them, but the route from A to B is far from a straight line. With David as my sat-nav, I was taken down the back roads of contractors and sub-contractors, from merchants to architects, local communities to governmental schemes. After designing and planning, environmental assessments and various surveys, infrastructure can begin to appear. Everyone needs to hold up their profit margin and everyone needs to communicate with each other. Specifications have to be maintained, procurement is complicated and there are lots of regulations and legislation. I had heard the UK have a target of 300,000 homes to build each year. With such a lengthy and complicated planning and development process and coupled with the fact the industry is suffering from a skills shortage, it will be a miracle if we can manage even 20% of that (saying that, 60,000 homes is still a healthy number). Who knew fields could be so complicated?

However, from my perspective, and I presume Fabrick’s as well, this all makes for a job that comes with the joys of variety, the challenge of the unexpected. With Oxford Archaeology East being called in to explore what was known to be a bronze age settlement from 800BC, there was an opportunity to get the local community involved and more familiar with This Land’s project on the whole. After rolling up our sleeves and putting up some signs around the perimeter of the site, we prepared for the arrival of the Burwell Parish Council, who were going on a guided tour of the excavation. Unfamiliar as I was, I went with them. And that is how I found myself, on a Monday afternoon, three millennia in the past, with a smile on my face.

Question marks

Driving home, I was left with question marks over what ‘construction’ actually is, in all of its diversity. With my lazy preconceptions of scaffolding and concrete out the window, my definition of construction, and the marketing of construction, needed some expanding. With Fabrick, there’s a lot of truth in the cliché, ‘you never know what each day will bring’. Like those archaeologists, brushing the topsoil to uncover its mysteries, at Fabrick you don’t know where each client will take you. From the boardroom to the bronze age, I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of the week.

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