You might expect construction workers to be happier sharing power tools than their feelings in the hard-hat world of building sites.
But they are being helped to open up about mental health problems by a radio station that is breaking down barriers created by the “macho” perception surrounding tradespeople.
Fix Radio, the first station dedicated to brightening up the day for builders, plumbers, roofers, decorators and carpenters, has become the on-site choice of some 290,000 workers across Britain, new figures from consumer data firm Neilsen data show.
The commercial digital station has built an audience by delivering daily breakfasts to builders and asking them what they want to hear while they work.
Along with light-hearted competitions to find “Britain’s filthiest builders’ radio” and upbeat pop choices to do plastering to, Fix’s stable of DIY-expert presenters have been surprised by the confessions of loneliness and isolation among its audience after they down tools.
“There is a mental health crisis among building workers which isn’t being addressed,” Louis Timpany, Fix Radio founder told i. “There is widespread depression. The number of people in the industry who take their own lives is shocking.”
Timpany added: “When you consider the resources that are spent on health and safety, to prevent objects falling on your head on a site, there is nothing like the equivalent being spent on protecting what’s happening inside your head.”
In construction, still a male-dominated industry, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than the national average for men, according to workplace mental health charity Mates In Mind.
Its figures show that two people working in construction in the UK die by suicide every working day, more than 700 a year.
“Construction work has a variety of pressures from tight contracts to long hours, time away from loved-ones and managing budgets, not to mention the added stresses of the pandemic and now the rising costs of supplies,” the charity said.
“Additionally, within construction lies a ‘macho’ culture which prevents many workers from seeking support and help when they may need it, putting further stress on their own mental health and wellbeing.”
Timpany said: “We want Fix to be leaders in the industry for talking about mental health. It’s something you hear on-air and we work closely with the Lighthouse Club construction industry Charity, which has a dedicated 24-hour phone line for trades people.”
The charity, given free advertising airtime on Fix for its campaigns, provides financial and emotional support for construction workers, many of whom have found themselves unable to work through injury.
Launched six years ago, the advertiser-funded Fix has expanded its audience by adapting to the changing demographics of the building site.
“There are fewer Eastern Europeans since Brexit but more women working as decorators and painters as well as electricians,” Timpany said.
Top 10 songs played in the last month across Fix Radio:
1. Heartbreak Feels So Good, Fall Out Boy
2. Lady (Hear Me Tonight), Modjo
3. Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), Spiller
4. Don’t You Worry Child, Swedish House Mafia
5. Angelica, Wet Leg
6. Turn Me On, Kevin Lyttle
7. Shut Up And Dance, Walk The Moon
8. I Gotta Feeling, The Black Eyed Peas
9. Can’t Stop The Feeling!, Justin Timberlake
10. Easy Now, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
“We hired our first female presenter (Grace Nicoll, a Scottish Channel 4 continuity announcer by day) fronts the evening show and it’s a priority to get more women presenters.”
Timpany hit upon the concept for Fix when he worked on a Basingstoke building site after leaving university.
“I quickly realised what a massive role radio plays in the daily life of tradespeople,” he said. “But the builders said they hated hearing the same songs repeated over again and found the presenters unrelatable.”
“I had a lightbulb moment. What if you created a radio station that genuinely spoke the language of the building trade? That understood what makes them angry, what makes them laugh – and cry.”
With DJs such as Chris Frediani, of the BBC series DIY SOS, Timpany said Fix is targeting builders who currently tune in to Radio 2, Absolute and talkSPORT.
“We want to cement ourselves as the number one, go-to station for builders. Ken Bruce leaving Radio 2 gives us an opportunity to peel off some of his audience.”
“But for Fix’s next phase, we’re looking for quality presenters first and foremost, they don’t need to have a building background.”
Word-of-mouth is key to Fix’s expansion – “Every radio on a site has an estimated three people within earshot. If they find Fix and make it their number one preset station, that worker will take their radio to the next job and more people hear it.
“The building world is a very close-knit community, they feel like they own Fix Radio. Advertisers like Screwfix like it because it goes direct to their target audience.
Popular topics on air include “protecting tools in your van from theft, supply chains and how to deal with customers who won’t pay up after a job is done”.
The question of whether builders should accept cash-in-hand payments to avoid VAT on jobs, is less likely to get a wide airing though, Timpany admitted – you don’t know who outside the building world might also be listening in.
According to Neilsen, Fix is listened to for 20 hours a week by its audience, a higher “loyalty” figure than any other commercial or BBC station. The key to its success, says Timpany, is finding the right music mix that helps builders focus on their tasks.
“They want upbeat, energetic music played back-to-back. But on building sites you’ve got the teenage apprentice through to the 70 year-old bricklayer. Pleasing everyone is the challenge.”
A Fix top 10 stretches from a traditional guitar-based Noel Gallagher track for older listeners to the pure pop of Justin Timberlake.
Timpany believes there is a potential audience of 2.2 million workers for Fix, which says its turnover is on track for £2m this year.
Investors are being sought but would Timpany sell out to Global or Bauer Media, the commercial radio giants whose listeners his station is luring away? “No way, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve just got going.”