The first half of day one of the BMF All-Industry Conference was surprisingly emotional, showing delegates the ways in which the building industry changes the lives of those in need, and teaching the importance of mental health awareness at work.

The day kicked off with a welcome from Welsh TV presenter and host Gethin Jones. He had unfortunately missed the memo that the party the night before had a white dress code, and so he donned the only white garment he had with him – his dressing gown.

Jones introduced BMF CEO John Newcomb and Chairman Peter Hindle MBE. The last BMF All-Industry Conference took place two years ago, and so Newcomb and Hindle reflected on the changes that had happened in that time, with the BMF’s membership rising by around 100 companies, up 111% since 2012. They discussed the theme of the Conference, “building excellence”, which means building people, skills, business, and the voice of the industry. They emphasised the importance of mental health in the workplace, making it part of mandatory health and safety. They discussed the issues facing the industry, including the skills shortage, material shortages, and of course, Brexit. Newcomb, feeling “Brexit fatigue”, said the first two issues are more immediately important to the industry, and that until October we can try to put Brexit out of our minds. With Hindle stepping down next March after a 40-year career, he thanked the BMF and said he wished them every success in the future.

Next up was Kevin Morgan from the headline sponsor, windows and doors supplier Crystal. He talked about the ways Crystal builds excellence, and stressed that the industry must be more open and honest to customers – epitomised by Crystals new doors and windows comparison website launching in July, where customers can get a quote for their project and find out where their nearest merchant is.

After that, DIY SOS presenter Nick Knowles showed delegates some of the much-needed help the show gives to people including veterans, reminding them that people do genuinely want to help one another, and this unites us. He talked about how humans are “social monkeys”, we need to interact, and he applauded the merchants which now host coffee mornings, allowing builders to socialise in what can otherwise be a lonely job. He said that, despite the often negative image the building industry has, it is a leader when it comes to investment. Knowles firmly believes that, post-Brexit, business will boom again.

Up next were mental health campaigners Neil Laybourn and Johnny Benjamin MBE. Benjamin had grown up with schizo-affective disorder, causing him to hear voices and almost driving him to suicide. In 2008, he sat on the edge of Waterloo Bridge in London, about to jump off. Laybourn, who was on his way to work, saw him and decided to sit next to him, asking, “why are you sat on the edge of a bridge, mate?” Benjamin explained, and the two talked for a while. Laybourn assured Benjamin of two things which changed his perspective: the first, that he had nothing to be embarrassed about, and second, that he would get better. Years later and in recovery, Benjamin wanted to track down the man who had saved his life on the bridge, and he launched a nationwide campaign to find him. The two had an emotional reunion, and have worked together ever since, campaigning for mental health awareness all over the country. They even ran a marathon together, at one point crossing over Waterloo Bridge. They said that, with suicide the biggest killer of men under 45, it’s never been more important to talk openly about how we feel and seek help when we need it.

In a subsequent Q&A session with Knowles, Laybourn and Benjamin, Knowles told delegates to ensure they create a working environment where employees feel they can be open and honest about their mental health. He said staff should be able to call in sick the same way they can with physical health, without having to fear ramifications on their career. He also suggested companies train volunteering employees as mental health first-aiders, who can help people dealing with problems like depression or an anxiety attack.

Read our review of Day 1 Part 2 here.