01 November 2019

EATTA: Who teaches the teacher?

TRADA image

Chris James, East Anglia Timber Trade Association (EATTA) chairman, knew what he was looking for when he started planning the second ‘Who teaches the teacher?’ trip. With a willing collaborator in Tabitha Binding, TRADA’s University Engagement Manager, who would engage lecturers thirsty for first-hand knowledge, he had to find the right business to host the group, willing to share their forestry, mill and production practices. Ian Drane of VIDA Wood UK Ltd stepped forward keen to show how Vida AB operate in Sweden – with an added visit to their house building factory too!


In early September, dodging annual holidays, term time, airstrikes and job changes, Chris, Ian and Tabitha departed for Sweden with four lecturers from the EATTA region:

  • Aftab Jalia, Architecture – Cambridge University;
  • Rob Foster, Engineering – Cambridge University
  • Richard Longstaff, Architectural Technology – Anglia Ruskin
  • Terry Connolly, Carpentry – Bedford College


The packed two-day itinerary included:

  • A tree nursery – could these 75mm high Norway spruce (Picea abies) seedlings really produce trees of 45m in height with a butt diameter of up to 1m in 80 years, with just sunlight and water?
  • Forestry and modern harvesting – a chance to sit in a harvester cab and see first-hand how man and machine work together to fell trees to order, cutting to species, dimension and length
  • Vislanda Mill – producing 300,000m3 of long length red and whitewood pa with a timber yield of up to 70% from each log thanks to computer 3D scanning
  • Alvesta Mill – producing 180,000m3 of short length red and whitewood pa
  • Vida Building – producing flat pack and modular buildings up to Passivhaus standards – which provided the fully finished panels for Rainham Passive Close, Essex;
  • Vida’s new head offices – CLT structure, clad with OrganoWood and roofed with ThermoWood


Accompanied throughout by Kristina Kuhner, Office Manager Customer Service, and Anders Svensson, Quality Control Manager, both with Vida 25 plus years, we had a real sense of a caring and convivial company that appreciated its workforce – no mean feat considering its size!


The lecturers came from architectural, architectural technology, carpentry and engineering disciplines. ‘The aim is for each lecturer to enliven students’ and colleagues’ interest in the timber business and in timber as a sustainable building material,’ said EATTA Chairman Chris James of Nason Davis.


‘Through such visits, we can get our industry’s message across directly to the specifiers and architects of the future. Broadening these four lecturers’ knowledge and increasing their enthusiasm for wood amongst those teaching engineering and architecture enables us to reach over 600 students. Over five years, we could potentially see 1500 new specifiers favouring timber and wood products as a result of this initiative,’ Chris James added.


Ian Drane said: ‘The Vida Group were delighted to host this most successful and enjoyable visit. The four university lecturers returned to the UK with a greater appreciation of the Swedish sawmilling industry and its sustainability, keen to share this knowledge with their students’.


Tabitha Binding commented: ‘We are indebted to Chris, EATTA, Ian and Vida, who have helped further the knowledge of our future professionals across multiple disciplines through ‘Who teaches the teachers?’ This hands-on approach pays dividends. Watching this years’ cohort of lecturers begin to fully understand the care, passion and collaboration that it takes to plant a seed, grow a tree and manage it for 80 years – before harvesting, milling, grading and drying the fully sustainable construction material – reinforces my belief that you cannot comprehend the scale, sophistication and relevance of forestry and timber production to our current and future construction requirements by just reading about it – you need to see it. Students will directly benefit from the knowledge that these lecturers have gained’.



‘This trip reinforced my sense that appropriately managed forestry and timber production present us with a construction material that can be used to help design a more sustainable built environment. The biggest impact that this trip will have on my teaching is a renewed sense of the importance of helping my engineering and architecture students to understand the full context in which they will make material selection decisions – rather than solely considering aesthetic or structural considerations. The experience will also enable me to be more authentic in my communication of the realities of the forestry and production processes. As a researcher, the trip also provided useful insight into the scale of the opportunities for further improvement in our use of structural timber in the built environment and some of the potential challenges.’ – Rob Foster



The VIDA group employ 1,100 people, have 18 production plants, turnover 6.4 billion SEK, produce 1,750,000 m3 of sawn timber (74% of business turnover) of which 75% is exported worldwide. Of this, 31% comes to the UK market – a not inconsiderable 407,000m3! They also produce packaging (11% of turnover), energy from residues (13%) and housing (2%). Vida buy their logs from forest owners in the south of Sweden and pride themselves on customer-tailored solutions. In February 2019, Canfor acquired a 70% stake in Vida AB.