Brett Installer Awards 2016

Another year and the annual Brett Approved Installer Awards and Big Dinner creeps slightly more southwards. Given most installers hail from locations downhill of Birmingham, The Belfry Hotel near Oxford would seem to be an ideal central venue, and it's not difficult to get there, but I keep returning to the point that a would-be national brand ought to have national participation. We'd love to see Brett paving up here in t'North! Please. Pretty please?

This conference grows each year into something ever more polished and professional. For 2016, the move to separate discussions and briefings from the main presentation, making them optional rather than an obligatory part of the conference, was a positive move, even though attendances were relatively small.

This may seem nonsensical, but instead of having a roomful of bored contractors wondering when they could get back to the bar, there were small groupings of genuinely interested parties, which prompted levels of questioning and discussion rarely, if ever, previously experienced at this event.

In particular, the update from Production Manager, Pat Hastings, regarding plant tweaks, stock levels and new investment was genuinely revelatory. It's rare to hear such honesty and straight-talking regarding problems they've had and fixes they've implemented, which made it all that much more interesting, and led to a free and open discussion about why certain products are dropped, and whether through-colour or face-mix technology is more appropriate.

The displays were, as ever, quite a mixture. Tools from Probst, HIT and Pulvex, sealants from Resiblock, clothing, marketing, gazebos, and a chance to win a plate compactor, with all ticket sales going to charity. A very busy room, with plenty of prodding, poking and participation, which is always good to see.

Planty to see at the exhibition

A display of new products, too, which gave everyone a chance to assess colour, texture and sizes in the flesh rather than relying on brochures and publicity photies. Much interest in the Elite Flamed Sandstone, and the new Rustic Bronze colour for block paving, but some disquiet regarding the loss of large-format blocks in the Beta/Regatta range.

BAI Conference
Calvin Jackson addresses the BAI Conference

In the actual conference, BAI Manager, Calvin Jackson, went through the numbers and what really struck home was the focus on the quality of scheme members, rather than quantity. Seven contractors expelled for not playing by the rules, and another eight not invited to renew their membership, but the 120+ that remain all have a common attitude to improving their businesses and striving for ever-better quality in terms of workmanship and customer service.

Alan Smith, now hauled further up the food chain to become CEO of the Brett Group as a whole, led us through facts and figures relating to the wider economy and the positive outlook for our trade in the next few years, which should have provided encouragement for even the most skeptical of contractors, and then we were introduced to the new MD for Brett Landscaping, Alastair Forbes who made a solid and sensible presentation for where he wants to take the business in the future.

Of course, the main event is the big dinner and awards ceremony, taking place in the evening, and requiring contractors to smarten themselves up, cut back on the industrial language, and act in a more civilised manner than that normally experienced in the back of a Tranny van on a wet Wednesday.

Dinner first, and then the awards, which makes sense as it gave those who had over-indulged in the free bar beforehand a chance to put something solid in their bellies before potentially risking a clumsy stagger up to the front to be anointed as winner.

A welcome and touching ackowledgement to the ever-popular Dave Woolley, who retires shortly after 40-humph years at Marley-TopPave-Brett, and takes with him an unrivalled knowledge of paving production, quality control and sales management. He's a hard, if not impossible, act to follow, and he'll be sorely missed.

It has to be said: there are a lot of awards. Indeed, so many that a 15 minute break was required at one point, and it was turned 11pm before the presentations were complete. That's a relatively long evening, and it gives far too much opportunity for winners to go astray as they replenish drinks at the bar, or make room for more drinks at the other bar, not to mention the increasing merriment and raucousness as we stumble towards the really big awards. There were a couple of contractors close to me who ought to be grateful they won nothing as they had zero chance of identifying the stage, let alone reaching it on foot!

The BAI Big Dinner

Not wishing to belittle any of the awards, for they are all mertited and fully deserved, but space doesn't allow the listing of all those promoted to Premier Member status, or those given due recognition for 10 year's continual membership. Enough to say congratulations to them all. However, as with the Oscars, where we don't really worry about who won best lighting but want to know who was best actor or what won best film, there are some awards deemed more worthwhile than others, and I would suggest the following list covers most, if not all, of the important accolades.

BAI Award Winners 2016

Best large driveway(over 50m²)

Tonbridge, Kent

Best small driveway(under 50m²)

Swanley, Kent

Best large patio(over 50m²)


Best small patio(under 50m²)

Haverhill, Suffolk

Contractors' ChoiceBest Driveway

Tonbridge, Kent

Contractors' ChoiceBest Patio

Swanley, Kent

Best Portfolio

Swanley, Kent

Contractors of the Year

Best Newcomer

Sevenoaks, Kent

Regional Installer of the Year South East

Tonbridge, Kent

Regional Installer of the Year South West

Swindon, Wiltshire

Regional Installer of the Year Northern

Tipton, West Midlands

National Installer of the Year

Tonbridge, Kent

Congratulations to everyone, not just the winners, but the runners-up, the other nominees and everyone who put in the effort to enter. It's great to see such fantastic work being done.

And thanks also, to Brett for organising all this, the awards, the dinner, and the Approved Installer scheme, which I know from contractor feedback is enormously valued by both them and their customers. I look forward to seeing what wonders can be performed in time for next year's awards.

Winning Awards:

There was some mumbling, both during the afternoon discussions about the new brochure and in the evening presentations, about how it always seems to be the same faces getting their work shown in the catalogue or walking off with the certificates and gongs. As an independent and impartial external observer of both the brochure and the awards, I think it only fair to point out that the award judging is completely uninfluenced by anyone at Brett (if it were otherwise, I wouldn't be part of it!), and that, to be fair, cream nearly always rises to the top.

I say "nearly always" because, when it comes to judging entries for the awards, or selecting images that would work well in a brochure, there are a good number of projects where a seasoned eye such as mine can tell the work is excellent, but the presentation and/or photography just doesn't do it justice.

The alleged regular winners of awards have two things in common: they do fantastic work, and they present it incredibly well. Too many entries try to show the job in its entirety, with a series of photies taken one step to the right or left of the preceding one.

By all means use a phiotie to show the overview of the work, but then show us the detail. If I had to suggest a Top Ten Tips on how to best present work for award judging, I'd suggest the following....


Use a good quality camera, not your 'phone, or get someone who has a good camera. Avoid midday shots where the sun bleaces the colour and detail. Overcast days, or early morning/later afternoon usually provides far more sympathetic lighting. And don't get your shadow in the picture!


Show the job from a variety of positions, and use a mix of panorama shots with close-ups. We all know a job can look best from one particular position, but six shots taken from points only a metre or two apart adds nothing to the overall presentation.


Show 'before' and 'after' so we can see the improvement


Show any specific challenges, such as restricted access or steep gradients


Show formation level so we can assess the build-up thicknesses and the state of the sub-grade, and show intermediate construction stages so the sub-base and edge restraint (if necessary) can be seen.


Show details. If there's a well-cut-in recess tray, a natty step, or a neat bit of drainage, provide a close-up


Don't show non-compliant work. Marks are lost for itty-bitty or incorrect cutting-in, for gaping joints, for overly wide mortar fillets, for visible haunching, for crossed joints and anything else that is considered a no-no by the British Standards.


Show drainage - knowing that surface water is properly and adequately dealt with can only gain marks. An interceptor linear channel at the threshold of a sloping driveway needs to show where it outfalls, otherwise we can only assume it's a dummy, connected to nowt but intended to fool the client.


Use height. Photies taken from a step ladder or an upstairs room often look far more appealling than low level, worm's eye view shots.

Don't obsess about wetting the paving to bring out the colour. We know it's good quality blocks or flags and are more interested in seeing it laid correctly than in seeing the colour exagerrated.

Given all that, all you need now is a prizeworthy job to photograph. Good luck!