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PHA visits the UK’s largest cement plant

PHA visits the UK’s largest cement plant

Despite the 5am wake-up, a trip to Hope Valley, home of the UK’s largest cement works, was a field day the Hope Construction Materials team and I had been really looking forward to.

As a PR living in London it’s not often we get to a) escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, b) get up close to huge impressive machinery and c) stop and think where the materials used to build all the infrastructure surrounding us comes from.

Like most people living and working in the capital, we quickly notice the loud and disruptive building work going on around us but do not fully appreciate the processes involved in making the end product possible.

The PHA team at the UK's biggest cement plant.

The PHA team at the UK’s biggest cement plant.

After a three-hour train journey into the depths of the peak district, surrounded by rolling green hills and fields of yellow flowers, we had arrived. It was the sheer size of the Works, hidden within these beautiful surroundings, that first shocked me and after getting suited and booted in all our protective gear we were off on a bus tour of the plant.

Learning how cement, essential to bind materials in construction and engineering was made, we started at the quarry, a large area of land in which limestone is extracted from. We then watched the huge limestone boulders being emptied into a machine that bashes them up into smaller workable size pieces, explored various other parts of the plant such as the kiln, in which all the heating processes take place, and the silos where cement is stored before being handed out to trucks. We even got to spend time in the controls room where all the monitoring of the machinery takes place. This was super technical stuff!

Two of the most impressive facts I learned were that:

  1. The process used to create cement was taken from natural reactions that took place millions of years ago.
  2. During the process, the mix is heated to more than 1000°C in under a minute.

I had a great day and can safely say I now have a different outlook on construction work taking place around me!

In defence of the tube strike – we need the human touch

It took me a total of two hours 20 minutes to get to work today, a journey that usually takes under 50 minutes door to door. As I battled my way through the hordes of stranded commuters and tried to avoid being shoved into the armpit of the person next to it would seem natural to curse the RMT. But despite my journey from hell, I support the tube workers’ strike.

The media have tried to pick Bob Crow apart by splashing stories on how much he makes a year, where he lives etc. to diminish his side of the argument. Sorry Daily Mail but I couldn’t care less that Bob Crow went to Brazil on holiday last week or makes £145,000 a year. What I do care about is passenger safety, my safety, on the London Underground, something that Bob Crow is seeking to preserve.

The official line that has been used to try and justify the closures is that fewer than 3 percent of tube journeys start with passengers visiting a ticket office. But given that a total of 1.2 billion passengers travel on the tube every year, that 3 percent represents rather a lot of people. Many of these people will be tourists who contribute millions to our economy each year.

Boris must understand the human cost of his proposals.

Boris must understand the human cost of his proposals.

Of course, businesses evolve. Advances in technology allow us to work smarter, be more efficient and save money but at what cost?

All supermarket shoppers will be familiar with the self-service checkouts that were introduced to increase the speed and ease of your shopping experience or so they said. Personally, I’ve never had a smooth experience using these checkouts especially as there’s always an “unexpected item in the bagging area!” So is it wise to cut 750 jobs on the Underground?

Granted, today’s passengers can handle machines and cards. Modernisation is inevitable but I would still like human beings around on the Underground to ask for help when needed or to make you feel safe when travelling late at night or early in the morning. What happens if you need your oyster card reissued or help planning an alternative route? There will be no one around to help and I highly doubt that most busy commuters will stop to help either.

Every morning I say hello to the lady at the ticket office in West Acton, we’ve been doing this for over two years now. Stopping to chat or waving to her as I run for my train really brightens up my mornings. I’d much rather be greeted by a smiling face than an automated machine any day.

Unmanned ticket offices may be cheaper but the government are seriously overlooking the human cost involved. We’re increasingly losing the human connection, something I don’t believe you can put a price on, as businesses become more ‘efficient’. This is why I’ll continue to support the strikes and remember not to grumble when I fight to get home tonight.

Take a seat for some good news in air travel

Getting on a plane is often one of the most exciting times of one’s year. Most of the time, you’re off on holiday, or even when it’s business, the weather is almost guaranteed to be better than the UK!

Before you actually get to take off, however, you need to check-in and sort out how you’re going to get there -your seat. For the majority of airlines, this isn’t an issue. Apart from EasyJet. The no-frills airline has always insisted on a first-come-first-served basis, which can have families or couples so worried that they won’t get to sit together that they arrive at the airport hours in advance to make sure they are allowed the luxury of sitting in the vicinity of a loved one. This is now to change.

The airline, after running a BOSS trial (bums on selected seats) and surveying 800,000 customers will implement allocated seating, putting an end to the worries of flying solo.

Extra leg room and seats will still cost an additional fee but at least now those after a cheap flight can travel do so with their party. This is a great step for EasyJet and all those after a discounted breakaway, and could, in time, change the perception that these airlines are a lower standard of air travel. Remember, they all do fly at the same altitude…