Keeping the project pipeline moving is a key priority during the pandemic. RLB UK’s Associate Project Manager, Simon Spencer, shares his view on how the team working on a schools scheme for Peterborough City Council rose to the challenge to keep the project on track.
Peterborough City Council (PCC) recently announced it had appointed Wates Construction as the principal contractor of a major schools’ project scheme, Manor Drive Schools, for the Four Cs Academy Trust. In a pre-COVID-19 world this would be a great, but perhaps not an out of the ordinary story – “investment in a new two form entry primary schools and a six from entry secondary school plus a nursery to meet the City’s education need; project on track; collaboration between all parties from the Department for Education (DfE), Peterborough City Council and Four Cs Academy Trust through to Wates Group and RLB.”
However, in the COVID-19 world we are now living and working in, I think this is a pretty extraordinary story. There has been a lot of focus, and rightly so, on how many construction sites are open, all working within the best practice and new guidance set out. But equally important is how we get early stage projects onto the next phase, keep them on track and support the pipeline. With the government’s recent Build, Build, Build announcement, this is even more critical.
As lockdown started, we had recently commenced the Invitation to Tender phase of the project, which involved a design competition between two framework contractors. This meant a series of client engagement meetings with the key stakeholders, having held the first one in the traditional environment. Pre-COVID-19 these would be large-scale with multiple parties in person providing the opportunity to discuss the detail of the project process as well as build relationships. In RLB’s role as lead technical advisor on the project, our first challenge was to alter the process from a traditional environment to the new digital approach. We communicated with client and contracting teams to ensure that there was a suitable digital platform that would not only support all parties but would also be able to run lengthy presentations and interactive sessions. That may sound simple but ensuring the tech was compatible and robust for everyone from Peterborough City Council and the DfE to Four Cs Academy Trust and all potential consultants for the lifetime of the project was critical.
It is a real credit to everyone involved that we were able to move as quickly as we have and that everyone adopted and adapted to this new way of working. Lengthy video conferences, as we all now know, are great but they can be oddly tiring and require a new meeting etiquette. We are by nature a rumbustious industry, so there’s been some real learnings about ensuring everyone gets their say and ensuring proper engagement. However, the team’s work has been fantastic. Collaboration at these early stages is a game changer and with multiple parties involved, these meetings have set the way of working for the entirety of the project lifecycle.
This digital process may not always take the place of face-to-face meetings when restrictions are relaxed, but as a virtual solution ‘plan B’ the proof of success has been in the outputs:
- The design competition produced two really excellent bids from the contractors
- It has enabled us to be really efficient with everyone’s time
- the carbon footprint of the project has been reduced
- Most importantly for all the stakeholders, the project is running to schedule and the outbreak of COVID-19 has not impacted the timeframe.
As well as the project-based outcomes, the team supporting Manor Drive Schools can claim to be working on the first local authority scheme to introduce electronic client engagement meetings (or eCEM). That is something I know we are all really proud of, particularly with the news that the process is being shared by the DfE for use on other schemes. Digital innovation and collaboration at its very best. We are really looking forward to working with the client team and contractor to deliver this critical project for Peterborough City Council.