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Sharing is Caring

Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?

Avril Lavigne was right, a little known fact is that she actually released the song specifically to recognise the difficulty in managing shared drainage claims. When she was interviewed in March 2002 she said 'I was made aware of the issues with shared drains in the UK by my boyfriend Chad. He had just finished touring with his Nickelback track, 'How you remind me', a song about insurance renewals. He told me about the complex issues of shared drains. I just felt compelled to do something about it to raise awareness'.

Chad never made it as a wise man, and he couldn't cut it as a poor man stealing, but his track and Avril's propelled shared drainage insurance claims into the spotlight and to the attention of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Claims were getting larger, mainly due to the miles of pitch fibre pipe that lay underground across the country. There were pockets where it was more prevalent and we got to know where it was. Areas that we spent lots of time in like Hayling Island, Canvey Island, Treasure Island, Isle of Wight, Rayleigh, Mortimer, Sonning Common, Oakley, Waterlooville, Peacehaven and many many more.

Shared drains, pitch fibre, squashed pipe, re-rounding, pipe bursting
Typical late 60's early 70's houses

Pipes made from pitch were predominantly installed in the 1950's,1960's and 1970's. You could tell almost immediately when you arrived at the house. Usually the houses were terraced or semi detached and were a certain style that was popular in that era.

Most of the time the drains were/are shared with other properties. In many cases running along the back of houses under conservatories, extensions and ornate fish ponds with prize koi carp worth a fortune (don't ask).

The problem with pitch fibre is that it breaks down, bubbles and squashes (highly technical terms). The pipe has very little resistance to load. They were often laid on bricks and not bedded with granular material giving them the support that they needed. It was not really until 1967 that engineers understood flexible pipeline design, whilst on the face of it this new material looked great, if it was not bedded properly it would go on to cause all sorts of problems, finally in 1973 the building regulations were changed to reflect this, albeit too late.

Pitch Fibre, Squashed, re-rounding, lining, blocked drain
A delaminated Pitch Fibre Pipe

So basically, the long term failure is due to poor installation which in turn causes deformation due to insufficient support causing excessive strains on the wall of the pipe. It is also only in recent years that it was discovered that asbestos was used in the manufacturing process. Back in 2002 we had no idea what we were dealing with.

All this is probably still being debated these days, but I am not so close to it now as I was then. It was mainly covered by most insurance companies policies at the time and therefore repairs could be carried out, usually re-rounding and lining back then. The trouble was, often these pipes would be shared by lots of properties. In the cases of Sonning Common and Mortimer we had projects where there were over 300 houses involved. As you can imagine the administration of this was incredibly complicated. Drain ownership meant that if your property was at the top of system you used all the pipe and were responsible for the largest amount of the cost. Where as Mr Iglesisas and his wife Anna at the bottom could 'Escape' with only a fraction of cost.

We had to design a system where we could easily survey, calculate costs and manage all the claims in one place. This was one of my main jobs in 2002, I had come up with some wizard spreadsheets on my Windows XP chunky laptop which could also double as a breeze block in an emergency. It would calculate it automatically and some nifty software to create all the plans. It is fair to say the jobs were worth a lot of money, repairs were often complex and involved lots of planning. It would take months to get approvals from insurance companies or not in some cases. I had struck up a good relationship with the IT man and remember many late nights in the office in Runcorn trying to work things out.

Other companies were also involved in these large projects, 3 spring to mind, ANSA, Druants and CRB Services were the contractors and claims handlers, it was a bit like 'Popstars the rivals', not sure who was Girls Aloud,One True Voice or Darius! 'Hit Me Baby One More Taaaaiiiimmmeee' ooh.

The summer of 2002 was one not to be forgotten. So many early mornings getting up at 5am, not for work of course but for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

I remember queuing up outside Walkabout in Brighton West Street to get into watch the England v Nigeria game at 6 in the morning having already had a 'number of drinks' and feeling quite excitable. As always England delivered the goods and spectacularly drew 0-0 to scrape us through to the last 16. So glad I had taken a weeks holiday to be thrilled with such amazing entertainment. I don't think I will ever do this again, it was unique and the memories will last even if the football was rubbish. Sunbathing on Brighton beach at 9am completely plastered craving a a large doner and chips. Living the dream!

Of course after beating Denmark convincingly 3-0 we eventually went out in the quarter finals to Brazil, again an early start but watched this one at home as I had to go to work after, I remember getting into the car to drive up to New Malden after we had lost to the Ronaldinho lob over Seaman (behave), I switched on the radio and meeting the 'Blazin Squad' at the 'Crossroads' was really the last thing I needed.

When I arrived at the customers house, he was also in a state of depression following our hard fought exit. We consoled each other and talked about what might have been had we had held onto the Owen lead. It wasn't meant to be, and Brazil went on to win the World Cup.

Devon, Saunton Sands, Silver Mondeo, DRBi, Dave
Stuck to the bonnet of the famous silver Mondeo

More importantly though Brighton themselves had just won the league (Old 4th Division) and were on the rise again. We were still to have many years in the lower leagues but a young lad called Bobby Zamora was making a few headlines and it was the start of the long journey to the Premier League. Many ups and downs would follow with the Stadium application though.

I had been given an amazing bit of tech by the company, something that took the picture above. It was one of the first digital cameras. Before these arrived you used to have to go to Boots and spend the next hour waiting for your pictures to be developed only to see a picture of your feet or the back of someones head. With these new marvels you could take as many pics as you liked and see them immediately on a screen on the back. The perverts of the world rejoiced knowing they would never have the shame of looking the photo lab assistants in the eye again or having to make do with a crappy Polaroid for their 'dick pics'. I know I seem to know far too much about this, the truth is I used to work in a photo lab at Boots in the 1990's and I can tell you lots of stories, some of the stuff we saw was quite frankly horrific!

The new camera would take surveys to a new level. What we take for granted now was like wizardry in 2002. It meant we could draw on the photos and use the digital versions to create visual maps and plans. The insurers loved this. I had worked out a way to create accurate plans from site photos. Nowadays you have Google Earth and GPS which makes it all a lot easier.

It had a whole 1.3 Megapixels. What is your phone these days? 12 Megapixels I believe. This was just the beginning, there were no camera phones yet but this was a big step in technology, one that we completely take for granted today.

The year had been really busy and we were building on some great projects and there was plenty on the horizon, we were expanding, I had talked with the owners about setting up a remote office and depot in the South where we could work from, this was to be the next step in my own learning journey. I was going to need to start planning, not just for a new office, new team and more work but also for a wedding. We had decided to get married the following year so there was lots to do.

That Warren James fella, remember him? Well as well as driving around in a Maroon Mondeo, yes you heard it right, Maroon, looking so cool, he was also managing the shared drains claims in the office, he was communicating with the ABI and there were noises about insurers working together to make shared drains easier to manage. They had listened to Avril and Chad and were working out a way to make it 'less complicated'. Of course the real reason was to save money, they had realised it was costing a fortune and that along with unhappy customers was forcing some strong lobbying of government to review the legislation. This was the very beginning of the 'transfer of private sewers' that would eventually happen nearly 10 years later.

2002 had been a great year, one of the best. I was learning more and more every day and even skilfully completed Tomb Raider 2 whilst staying away in dark hotel rooms. This is a skill that not many doctors, lawyers or senior directors have, just remember that when choosing a consultant or coach to work with. Problem solving, planning and agility at its best!

To be continued....

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