Kevin McCloud delighted to return to NEC for Grand Designs Live

You would think if anybody knew where to get a skilled tradesman, it would be Kevin McCloud. But it seems not even the presenter of Grand Designs is immune from the skilled labour shortage as he turns to YouTube for advice on how to lay tiles.

Kevin McCloud is back with Grand Designs Live at the NEC
Kevin McCloud is back with Grand Designs Live at the NEC

"It's not easy, they are really big tiles," he says. "I'm also doing a bit of plastering. I never thought that at the age of 62 I would be learning new skills like this. But I can't get a tiler."

Grand Designs Live is back at the NEC for the first time in two years. And McCloud, who has fronted the Channel 4 show for 22 years, says the pandemic and subsequent supply-chain problems and labour shortages have done nothing to dampen the public's appetite for creating and improving their own living spaces.

"I have not seen a single shred of evidence that people are giving up," he says. "If anything, I would say it has strengthened people's resolve.

"I think more people are interested than before, more people have realised their own home isn't quite meeting their needs, or that their needs have changed."

One of the star attractions at this year's exhibition is the box room competition, where designers have been challenged to re-imagine what is often the smallest room in the house.

Mike Golding from Ornate Garden at last year's event

"For many of us, since the lockdown every single room in the house has been pressed into service, whether that is using it for face-timing our loved ones, working from home, home-educating the kids or just having somewhere to have a good cry when things have been really tough.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing what they have come up with."

McCloud says the pandemic has also created a 'make do and mend' approach to home improvements, which he finds quite exciting.

"Because people can't get the tradesmen for love nor money, or they can't get the materials delivered, they are coming up with their own solutions and their own DIY adaptations. They are making do and mending."

He points out that this approach was pioneered in the early years of the long-running TV series, when Lucie Fairweather built a small family home on a tight budget, often making use of recycled materials.

"She showed that it was possible to take rubbish bought at charity shops, and create something new and attractive.

"It shows that good ideas are often the ones that do not come at great expense, you can recover an old stool with a cut-out from a coat you have bought at a charity shop and make something really beautiful."

But he says, speaking from his own experience, there are some jobs that just have to be left to the experts.

"I once hired a digger for my birthday, and did so much damage trying to create a garden pond that I had to hire a digger driver for a week to make good all the damage I caused," he says.

Bad Dog Design from Staffordshire were among the exhibitors in 2020

McCloud says one of the most enjoyable things about the show, which runs until Sunday, is meeting the people behind the ideas.

"Television is looking at a camera, talking to small disc, or dealing with a small crew of people," he says. "It's wonderful to actually meet people, to share the stuff they have been doing, I'm really looking forward to that."

With the Cop 26 environmental summit coming up, and the Government's commitment to net zero, sustainability is the buzzword of the moment. 'Kevin's Green Heroes', a celebration of ground-breaking new products to help save the planet, is always a big draw for visitors, and this year is no exception.

Innovations on show include paper made from sugar and poppy seeds, sourced from agricultural waste, a chewing-gum bin that is actually made from waste chewing gum, bottles made from natural fibres and plastic-free paints. McCloud says he is proud of how many of these quirky ideas have entered the mainstream.

However he qualifies this by saying that while new technology is great, the real solution to sustainable living and lower energy bills is often much simpler.

"I just wish some of the simple ideas were adopted," he says. "Insulation, and draught excluders under the doors.

"Being sexist, I think it is men who get over-excited by tech, but all too often this just means more stuff to go wrong.

"Install your solar panels by all means, but only do that once you have done your insulation.

"Very often you can make a real difference without having to spend much money."

Hazel Smith, from Breeze House, at the returning live show

Some commentators have suggested that hydrogen could be crucial to meeting Britain's future energy needs, but McCloud is not convinced.

"I'm not a fan of hydrogen, in that it requires a lot of energy in order to produce it," he says. "I don't think we are going to get to net zero with gas, but it might be possible with electricity."

He believes heat pumps, something else that was unheard of 20 years ago, are going to become increasingly popular in years to come, but at the moment the big obstacle is still the cost.

"I think we are going to see more and more of them," he says.

"They are a reliable source of eco-friendly green energy, which means you no longer need to use gas from the grid and pay rising energy prices.

"At the moment they are still a little bit expensive, but some of that is offset by the Government's Renewable Heat Incentive, which is a very good way of mitigating the cost."

What they will not do, though, is provide the same amount of heat as a traditional central-heating system with radiators. He believes in recent times people have become too accustomed to their homes being warm all year round, rather than dressing appropriately for the time of year.

"We should be able to have our heating running at 18-19C rather than 21," he says.

"It is a modern addiction, that people like to live in their homes in the middle of winter in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, regardless of what the weather is like outside.

"In the winter I will wear two jumpers to keep warm.

"I think we should go back to the old-fashioned idea of people wearing trousers. And tights and stockings."

Kevin McCloud is back with Grand Designs Live at the NEC

Of course, organising a show in the wake of the pandemic has been something of a challenge, but McCloud says huge efforts have been made to ensure everybody is safe. All visitors will be required to provide either proof of double-vaccination or take a lateral-flow test before they will be allowed to enter, and the NEC has even upgraded its air-conditioning system for the event.

In recent years the construction trade has been rocked by the cladding scandal, which came to light following the Grenfell Tower disaster four years ago. This has left many flat owners with huge bills to cover the cost of replacing unsafe cladding, and McCloud says this has shone a spotlight on the shortcomings in an industry more concerned with profit than quality control.

He says pinpointing precisely who is responsible for what happened at Grenfell is difficult because of the number of companies, contractors and individuals involved, but what the inquiry has so far shown is how construction companies were quick to look at ways of cutting costs, without fully understanding the implications of what they were doing.

"We have a construction industry that is very poorly trained and under-skilled, that requires some robust restructuring."

He believes that it should be the companies which built flats with unsafe cladding that should be held liable for the cost of replacing it.

"I don't understand why it is the leaseholders who have bought a flat, with the relevant safety certificates in place, who should be held liable for the cost of rectification," he says.

"Many of the builders who have built these flats have made handsome profits out of them.

"Where cars have been found to have defects, the manufacturers have recalled them and rectified them at their own cost, and it should be the same with the builders. It is outrageous."

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