The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621.

Robert Merry has spent a busy time keeping up with an ERUPTION!! of activities in the stone industry.

What a month that was! Stone is only the half of it. This town has been quiet for two years and now there’s been a ERUPTION!!! (Bob Hoskins – The Long Good Friday – great film, great moment). All of a sudden, stone coming out of my ears! That doesn’t sound right… but its spring and we can mix up our metaphors, can't we?

First the Stone Masons’ National Occupational Standards (NOS) review with the CITB. A sober affair but for the betterment of all.

Then, the Stone Federation did us chest out, strut down the road, “away the lads (and lasses)” proud at Surface Design with, in association with architect Squire & Partner, a beautifully conceived display of stone. The accompanying blurb and section on re-purposing a broken stone object was inspiring. Well done all involved.

Next up, The Case For Stone. A Stone Federation-led discussion, primarily about stone as a load bearing structural element as used at 15 Clerkenwell Close.

Hosted by Ulrike Knox of Knox architects (cathedral architect and Natural Stone Awards Judge) with Amin Taha of Group Works, Steve Webb of Webb Yates and Zac Tudor of Arup. Taha and Web had collaborated on 15 Clerkenwell Close, with its exoskeleton of French limestone. Their opinions have ruffled some British quarry feathers, although that may be a good thing in the long term. I think the tradition of using stone as a load bearing element has receded in the UK, so perhaps we can all work together to change this. Chicken and egg, I guess – to continue the poultry metaphor.

Then Stone Digital, organised by the company behind the Natural Stone Show & Hard Surfaces exhibitions and this very magazine. A two day bonanza on how the stone industry is rising to the challenge of net carbon zero and where the stone world has travelled in terms of digitalisation.

I watched excellent contributions from Albion Stone and PAYE, as well as Vetter, Historic England, Green Thinking, Simpson Brown Architects and more. If you missed it, you can watch all or any of the sessions on catch-up until the end of April on the same platform as it was originally shown on, which you can find at

Interestingly, as I toiled with the introduction of carbon saving machinery and methods of work, looked at digital management packages and fast tracked design solutions, increased productivity through off-site manufacture and the introduction of site robots, the stone sat there, relatively inert, looking beautiful, as always, waiting for us all to finish. Its glory undiminished by what we are trying to do with it. As ever.

Moving swiftly on, there followed a meeting of the Stone Federation Technical Committee, of which I’m a member. A goodly debate about education and skills in the sector, an aging workforce and diminishing opportunity for apprenticeships.

Of course, we discussed standards and technical stuff, too. But the education debate interested me. The Stone Masons’ NOS review, which started at the beginning of February and continued into March, reviewed 12 standards for stone people.

They cover internal/external fixing, memorials, heritage, cladding and cutting. They provide a framework that can be used in several ways: for awarding bodies to create qualifications to train individuals (for instance, in an apprenticeship framework); for employers to create job descriptions and train staff; and for individuals looking to match their skills to a trade. They underpin college courses and should be used by the industry to employ staff and train new skills. I think the framework is there, we just need to learn to use the resource we have.

The icing on my particular stone cake was the Stone Federation Interiors focus group meeting. Chaired by the recently anointed ‘el Presidente’ of the Stone Federation, Chris Kelsey – an excellent appointment, if I may say so.

There are lots of exciting developments for the Interiors group, including the soon to be published wet rooms guide, development of BS 8298 for internal use of stone cladding, and a drive to promote the use of stone in interiors.

‘When does this bloke ever find time to get any work done,’ I hear you ask. I know! As I said, it’s been a busy month.

Just going to relax in March with a trip to Future Build at Excel. I don’t think I’ll have the energy to visit KBB in Birmingham.

How about you? How’s the icing on your stone cake this spring?