Interlay No More:

It is with enormous sadness that the closure of trade association, Interlay, has finally been confirmed by its membership. For four decades, Interlay was the sole independent voice for, initially, block paving installers and latterly all paving contractors, speaking up for those that make their living by laying paving and helping them to both present and maintain a professional standard.

It spoke for the trade when changes were suggested to installation standards and to working practices, notably the life-changing work on control of dust from cutting paving materials, and then on reducing injuries amongst the workforce. It’s no exaggeration to say that Interlay has been instrumental to making the paving trade a better place to work, and helped extend the working life for many of us.

However, membership was always relatively small, limited to those who regarded paving as a career and not just a job or a non-academic way of earning a crust, and so it relied on some financial support from the larger paving manufacturers to keep it solvent. Those manufacturers initially recognised the value in having a professionalised and well-trained installation sector , but then grew a realisation that being able to exert greater control over those installers and effectively use them as an unpaid salesforce drove many of the larger manufacturers to create their own brand-specific “installer schemes” which replicated much of what Interlay tried to do, but with none of that risky ‘independence’.

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As the manufacturer-owned schemes grew, both in size and in membership, the numbers of installers supporting Interlay fell, and while there was eleventh hour backing from the schemes operated by Bradstone and Brett, the willingness of one or two other significant manufacturers to financially support what may be regarded as an uncontrolled rival organisation dwindled to the point where it all became unsustainable.

And that’s the greatest pity: there is now no national, independent, recognised voice for our paving installation trade. We face a future where we will allow those that never actually lay paving to dictate how we should work, with no direct voice to represent our interests. We’ll have no independent input on how training should be developed. There’s no-one to push for the much-needed national qualifications, and there can be no dedicated and targeted intervention at local, national and international level to ensure the men and women installing paving in modern Britain have a voice that commands attention. We need an independent forum to discuss matters of concern, to disseminate new information about tools and techniques, to make sure that changes to methods and materials will not adversely impact on our ability to make a living doing what we love, but that has now passed, and far too many installers are wholly dependent on a worryingly small number of major manufacturers to look after our best interests. Will they really put our livelihoods before their own profit margins? The requirements of shareholder law simply doesn’t allow them – we are at their mercy.

And when it comes to schemes governing working practices, such as the ongoing National Highway Sector Scheme 30 (NHSS30), who now will speak up for the poor sod on the end of the mall or mallet when more and more responsibility and liability is foisted onto them?

Interlay did all this on our behalf. All too often, it did it too quietly, without sufficient fuss, without drawing enough attention to its valiant efforts, but the paving trade of the 2010s is a better, safer place than the one I joined in the 1960s and much of that is down to Interlay sticking up for us, the workers.

When I visit other parts of the world (back in pre-covid times when that used to happen!) I often meet contractors enjoying a very comfortable and generous standard living, in an industry where they command respect, where their health and welfare is well looked-after, where there are defined career paths for self-improvement and business development, where they contribute to the ongoing development of the industry. The one thing these contractors all have in common is that they usually belong to a well-organised and well-funded paving trade organisation.

It is such a shame, in the truest sense of that phrase, that apathy has brought about the demise of the only independent trade body in Britain. There will no longer be an independent effective trade organisation for paving installers because paving installers, to put it bluntly, couldn’t be arsed.