Wednesday 4th February 2015 at 3.45pm was the exact point when my life changed.
My name is Gary Giles. I was sitting at my desk doing the month end accounts for Wetherby Group when my boss John Chalmers came into the room. He’d just returned from a demonstration in Germany for a new piece of bagging equipment, and had just signed the contract to buy it. This machine was for packaging renders and plasters into plastic bags and, ever the entrepreneur, John was trying to think of other applications and sales opportunities.
‘What about filling with sand and making re-useable sandbags for flood defences?’ was one thought.
A good idea, but it soon became apparent that while the reusable sandbag was great, we still had to figure out how to join the sandbags together if we wanted build a watertight wall.
We had arrived at the age-old construction problem of horizontal and vertical integration…
Rethinking the Wall
My dad, Michael Giles, owned a small building company and as a child I would often go to see him on the site, health and safety being a bit more ‘relaxed’ in 1970’s Britain. I can always remember him saying, “Son, there’s only two basic problems in building… how to join the same shape up and down and side by side” – i.e. horizontal and vertical integration
Back in 2015, this problem kept going around in my head and I quickly realised that building upwards was fairly easy – thanks to gravity – as you can easily stack things. But joining pieces sideways was, as we were soon to find, the holy grail of building conundrums.
My old friend, Graeme Wilkinson, and I worked on a lot of solutions… but none of them were quite perfect. The best we could come up with was a packing case sort of thing with a slot cut sideways to put in a jointing piece. By this point I’d moved jobs, but the obsession had got the better of me so it was back to the drawing board.
We knew we wanted to use plastic as a material given the fact it was durable, very versatile and there was plenty of it that needed recycling so we went to see a company called Omega Plastics, who were local to us in Hartlepool. I suspect they thought we were both mad but were good enough to put us in contact with a team of industrial designers called E3 Design based in Newcastle. We met Peter Angus, an affable Northumbrian (which is a Geordie who lives in the sticks), and gave them the brief and a few weeks later they came back with a lot of very innovative ideas.
But being honest none of them quite hit the mark.
This was going to require further thought…