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BSRIA...a personal reflection from Graham Manly, Past BSRIA ChairmanJanuary 2015

Few of BSRIA’s members, clients and associated organisations today would be able to picture those early days of the Association let alone appreciate the amazing journey it has made since its inception.


The first newsletter and an early photo of the HVRA staff, including its founding Director Neville Billington OBE (centre, seated) (click image to zoom)
The HVRA (Heating & Ventilating Research Association) as it was known then was founded, funded and governed by its industry members to undertake collaborative research for their benefit. It was however also financially supported by Government to disseminate its research for the public interest, as well as to undertake confidential research contracts for various Government departments. The output of this valuable and ground-breaking work was not glossy guidance publications but – lowly laboratory reports, highly regarded by researchers but not ideal for the industry’s practitioners.

Such was the total output of the Association’s work that after 20 years, and still under the leadership of its founding Director Neville Billington OBE, I recall the members proposed a change and in 1975 BSRIA was born, not only to demonstrate the broadening of its scope into the wide range of building services but most importantly with the inclusion of the ‘I’ for information, available on request. Its raison d’être from then on was to provide information and guidance in a form that could be easily digested and applied by industry practitioners and their clients.

Laboratory reports were turned into Technical Notes and Application Guides were generated as a result of industry-sponsored research, BSRIA publications started to fill the bookshelves and be seen on the industry’s desks. Most importantly, many of these have become reference documents in specifications for the way in which various processes should be undertaken – the BSRIA Guide is the de facto authority for many. This has not happened by accident but by the strict adherence to research, practitioner input and review across the spectrum of BSRIA membership, and complete integrity and impartiality. Over the last 40 years hundreds of Guides have been produced, many recognised now merely by their reference numbers. The original emphasis on technical design matters has gradually grown over the years to cover the procedures for technical activities like commissioning and water treatment, as well as the format for the management of the design and construction processes  themselves. Latterly, guidance has included the procedure for delivering an operational building and monitoring its performance in its formative years known as soft landings and life-cycle assessment.

One of BSRIA’s many attributes and strengths is its membership, which is made up fairly equally of clients, consultants, contractors, manufacturers and an ‘others’ category as can be seen at the back of its Annual Review. This very wide representation of the industry is special and enhances all that the Association does, as it provides a unique forum for addressing the key issues which are sometimes seen differently by different parts of the industry.


Part of an early market intelligence report, April 1982 (click image to zoom)
However, it has always been necessary to ensure that each of the constituent membership categories derives benefit relevant to them. It was not long before the manufacturers asked for marketing data and in the early 1980s, following an initiative by Anne King, a Market Intelligence section was formed with a small team. Like the proverbial acorn, this has grown with global branches under Andrew Giles’ inspired leadership to be one of the largest sections representing over 20% of the Association’s income. Perhaps most importantly is the recognition that this Worldwide Market Intelligence team has achieved internationally and thereby its contribution to enhancing the BSRIA brand.

At about the same time, I recall a similar acorn called BSRIA Hire with a small range of flow meters available when the staff were not using them for their research or site investigation and a minor calibration facility, which was more of a favour than a comprehensive service. With the growth of formal commissioning and to support the new commissioning guides, the decision was taken to invest in a wide range of instruments and services and, led by David Stephens, the section now known as Instrument Solutions has a team of over 40 and generates 25% of the Association’s income.

A more unusual arrival at BSRIA’s car park in the late 1990s was what appeared to be a jet engine on a trailer but it was formally called a Fan-Rover (a very large axial fan driven by a shaft from a Land-Rover). Apart from attracting interest from all the staff and visitors, the machine was deemed to have a purpose, especially when reversed up to the side of a building and so leakage testing of buildings was born. Not only is this now standard practice as enshrined in Part L of the Building Regulations but commercial airtightness is also a major business for the Association, along with general on-site testing and investigation as well as product testing across a whole range of equipment.


BSRIA's original premises which has since been extended and developed to home test and calibration facilities
These major commercial activities were spear-headed by the Association’s last two Directors/CEOs Graeme Baker OBE and Andrew Eastwell who had to face dwindling income from the public purse and in doing so made BSRIA into the efficient business it is today. To support this, the governance was also changed in 1991 when the Council handed responsibility to a small elected Board of Executive and Non-executive directors and I was privileged to be selected to serve as its second Chairman. I believe this has served the Association well and the combined strengths of both types of director has avoided many of the minefields and ensured continuous growth ever since.

Neville Billington and the founding members of the Association (including my father) could not have imagined how their ‘research’ seed would grow but I am sure they would be delighted and proud to know that it has matured into a highly-respected and valued centre of excellence, still owned and governed by its membership. The present is, however, not the end but the launch-pad for the future and I look forward, now as an Honorary member, to what heights our sixth chief executive Julia Evans and her team will guide the Association next.

Graham Manly, Past BSRIA Chairman

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