Report on the Annual Lecture 2023

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The Worshipful Company of Plumbers’ Annual Lecture has formed a centrepiece of the Company’s calendar, for four decades, once again held in the brutalist concrete hall of the Royal College of Physicians, adjoining Regent’s Park, the Company’s thirty-eighth Annual Lecture combined the social with the technical.

Photos of the event by Marcus Jamieson-Pond are hosted on Snapfish. You may download low-res versions or open a Snapfish account for high-res versions (and the first few downloads are free).

As much as we enjoy our fabulous social events in venues such as the Mansion House, and grand Livery Halls, it is always an antidote to attend these lectures. Returning to the Royal College of Physicians each year almost feels like a home-coming for Liverymen and their guests, and the softer interior afforded a full complement of Plumbers a splendid venue for the evening.

The galleries on two flights of the stairwell, house an extensive museum devoted to the history of medicine, and also exhibit portraits of eminent physicians.

The library on the second floor, once again, provided the setting for early attendees to partake in coffee and nibbles whilst networking with others:

The college is fortunate to have a modern, purpose-built lecture hall fitted with all the latest visual and audio equipment and comfortable seating.

In a departure from the norm of recent lectures, three speakers were invited to consider the matter under review: Who needs University, when Apprenticeships are better?

The lecture was organised by the Chairman of the Plumbers’ Education and Technical Committee, Richard Soper, who opened the proceedings, before handing over to the Master, Air Commodore Paul Nash, who introduced the three speakers.

The first was Carl Arntzen, the CEO of Worcester Bosch, which has extensive manufacturing facilities throughout Europe. Carl spoke of the challenges posed by the need to address CO2 emissions and environmental sustainability considerations:

The next two speakers were Neil Collishaw, CEO of the British Plumbing Employers Council, and Liveryman Kevin Wellman, who is CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering:

Neil Collishaw
Kevin Wellman

These two speakers spoke of the challenges of recruiting suitably qualified technicians to the industry. As they highlighted, whereas formerly entry to the industry was though many years of apprenticeship, some new entrants often merely undertake crash courses of a few weeks. The result is that these entrants are usually able to cope with the basics, but are completely stumped when a level of greater expertise is required. That gap is likely to widen as new and more technical skills will be required to install and maintain the new technologies needed to deliver environmental sustainability, and the training sector will need to gear up to deliver this.

The speakers spoke of the fact that in most sectors of the construction industry in the UK, anyone, no matter what qualifications they do or do not have, may enter the industry. This is no less true of the plumbing sector, which for the most part is unregulated and registration is voluntary. The potential for significant costs to be incurred and properties to be damaged through leaks caused by poor plumbing are considerable.

Liveryman Wellman made a powerful argument for regulation. He suggested that since gas installation is regulated through GasSafe, why could such regulation not be extended to the rest of the plumbing and heating industry? The question and answer session that followed, supported the views expressed by the speakers, with a conclusion that academic studies could sit with, and support, vocational training.

The proceedings in the lecture theatre concluded with the Master presenting Certificates of Excellence from the Worshipful Company of Plumbers to three rising stars of the industry:

Above, Ruben Duggan, the 2022 HIP Learner of the Year and Gold Medallist in the UK SkillPlumb Competition.

Below, apprentices Summer Gee-Fitzmaurice (right) and Daisy Turner (left), who each successfully received one of six bursaries from the Company from a field of just under a hundred applicants!

Following the lecture, attendees, who included trade representatives from across the industry, and the press, returned to the library, where drinks were served, before entering the main hall for an informal dinner around round tables:

As in previous years, we are very grateful to our Corporate Members, who help sponsor our Annual Lecture and in particular to Monument Tools, who also sponsor our annual bursaries.

Malvern Tipping
Senior Steward