This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity for all of us to show solidarity with our colleagues, friends and family who may be struggling with mental health problems, and to consider ways we can help them.

Vicky Beckwith

Of course, this is not something we should do just once a year. Supporting the mental health of those close to us, whether at work or at home, is a constant responsibility and one that our industry, increasingly, takes very seriously. More than 400 workers in the housebuilding and construction industry take their lives each year, a tragic statistic that we are determined to reduce.

The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and the Home Builders Federation deserve great credit for launching a long-term initiative to transform construction’s approach to mental health. Their contribution has been invaluable but they, like us, recognise that the most important efforts are made in the workplace.

Bovis is working closely with the charity Mates in Mind, which provides support to construction workers, to ensure that we have the right policies in place to keep our people safe and happy. A key task is to break the taboo around mental health, countering any impression that admitting to problems is in any way something to be embarrassed about. We are creating a culture in which all our people – whether on site or in other functions – feel able to talk them through. We all go through personal challenges, due to relationships, finances, work or anything else in the range of human experience: our message to staff is that there is no shame in it and that help is at hand to stop it eroding their mental health.

We also recognise that there are particular challenges in construction. The year-end and half-year periods tend to be very demanding for all of us as we work to complete projects. Our aim is to ensure that we don’t just focus on work, but on the valued people doing the work.

Diversity inclusion hands

Creating that culture is just the beginning. We are also taking practical steps to ensure that workers have ready access to qualified people able to help them in confidence. We are training mental health first-aiders across the business, with the ambition of having at least one in place for every 50 employees.

Not every site will have a mental health first-aider but every member of staff should be able to reach someone easily. Our HR, Health & Safety and Learning & Development teams are working closely together to make this ambition a reality as soon as possible.

Mates in Mind have given essential support – they provided the initial training, but we now have the capability to train people ourselves internally, which is speeding up the process. We are getting there: Bovis has 1,200 employees, so we are aiming to have at least [30] trained first aiders to provide the ratio of coverage we want and are well on our way to achieving this goal.

We also understand that we won’t beat this issue through reaction alone; we need to take a more proactive approach to target the triggers of mental health problems in the first place. Physical health, financial wellbeing, inclusion and personal interaction are some of the areas we are working hard to promote at Bovis Homes through training, social events, away days and even yoga classes.

We were proud to be the first housebuilder to sign up in support of Mates in Mind but this is not about differentiation; it needs the combined effort of us all to ensure we can make a difference across the entire industry. Despite being competitors, housebuilding and construction businesses have a long history of collaborating about best practice, joint projects and other issues, and this is no different.

We’d be delighted to share ideas and experiences with colleagues across the industry. Together, we can work to protect the most important part of all our businesses – our people.

Vicky Beckwith is head of human resources at Bovis Homes