Darwin Group’s construction director, Spencer Stokes, outlines how the firm and industry adapted site working practices to ensure the safety of the project team, its clients and the public throughout several peaks of coronavirus cases
Having been trusted with the delivery of several urgent healthcare facilities and numerous educational buildings throughout the pandemic, modular specialists Darwin Group had to find ways to continue construction work safely.
We have always worked to comprehensive guidelines on health and safety, however, when the first national lockdown took the country by disbelief, we knew our current practices would be put to the test.
Therefore, the need to transform our ways of working – particularly in order to deliver several urgent healthcare facilities – was more apparent than ever before. This was coupled with the pressure of our clients relying on us to deliver modular buildings at record-breaking speed.
For instance, at the height of the UK lockdown, we were appointed to deliver a permanent, state-of-the-art medical block for New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. The two-storey, 1,744sq. m building, consists of 54 beds across two floors, providing two ward spaces for critical respiratory care.
It was essential to have the wards built and operational as soon as possible in order to cope with rising Covid cases and in readiness for the forecasted peak of the pandemic. The new facilities also needed to be built to specific standards and take into account emerging Covid-19 design guidance.
With the help of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, we were able to design, manufacture and build the specialist facility offsite, installing and fitting out onsite within 12 weeks. Our modular methods meant that compared to traditional construction techniques, we could deliver the building in 12 weeks, rather than 12 months.
The short timeframe for the project required maximum efficiency. However, it was important to limit the number of people onsite to allow for social distancing to be maintained. Our team worked 24 hours a day split across three shift patterns to allow for deep cleaning of the site in-between team changes.
The location of the new wards also bought with it some complex challenges. We had limited access to the site, as it was closely neighboured by high-traffic areas of the hospital.
All of our projects have a dedicated head of project delivery who works closely with the client to ensure that minimal disruption is caused. Together with the Trust, we worked to ensure the safe operation of the hospital during our works and this meant finding ways to keep the construction team away from the healthcare staff and patients who were working in close proximity to them. Increased hygiene measures were also needed to keep the team and the rest of the hospital safe and help stop the spread of any germs.
As a modular builder and a West Midlands based company, the ward we delivered for New Cross Hospital was a project that was very close to our hearts and we are thrilled that it has since received the Construction Project of the Year award as part of the Insider West Midlands Property Awards 2020.
Stew Watson, head of estates development at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, said: “We were delighted with the new facilities that Darwin Group provided at New Cross Hospital.
“The new Wards were constructed to very high-quality standards have also taken account of emerging Covid-19 design guidance mid-development.
“The experience we had working with the Darwin team was excellent. This was an ambitious project, within demanding time frames together with a challenging site location during the height of the Pandemic, but we do not feel that the fast-track programme we set the Darwin Group was in any way compromised as to the high standards that we expect at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust.”
Another huge benefit to utilising modern methods of construction is that major parts of a project can be delivered offsite. This significantly reduces the potential for disruption to sensitive client sites, such as schools or educational buildings.
Modular construction allows us to create a highly controlled environment at our Shrewsbury-based factory where health and safety can be monitored closely. It also enables complete quality management and a significantly reduced turnaround time for clients.
We are particularly proud of the work we delivered for Kendrick School in this regard. After successfully securing a share of the £50m Selective School Expansion Fund, the all-girls grammar school in Reading requested our services to deliver a brand-new teaching block.
Our in-house design team created plans for a multi-use building that featured a total of nine classrooms, a dining area and brand-new sports courts. Due to lockdown, our designers communicated virtually with our client though detailed 3D drawings and walk-throughs that bought the ideas to life without the need for them to regularly meet in person.
We then utilised our offsite construction facility to ensure that as much work as possible could be completed without disturbing the staff or students.
For the final stages of the project, when the modules were being installed, our head of project delivery worked closely with the school to ensure that work was completed out of school hours where possible. We also utilised the school summer holiday to finalise works and ensure everything was ready for when the new term began in September.
Christine Kattirtzi, head teacher of Kendrick School, commented: “We were delighted with our new building; it was completed on time for our new expanded cohort of Year 7 students that arrived in September 2020.
“The building has also been a huge help to us in the difficult times of the pandemic giving us more space to keep our students Covid safe.
“I would like to sincerely thank all the staff of Darwin Group for their work and commitment to this significant project for Kendrick School.’’
In-light of Darwin Group’s commitment to comprehensive site working practices, we recently received an award from the UK’s largest health and safety consultancy, the Building Safety Group (BSG). Our team was crowned ‘Highly Commended Member of the Year’ for our work across London and the South East.
BSG commended us for our outstanding contribution to health and safety by introducing measures that have helped to keep both our team and our workplaces free of injury and ill-health.
As lockdown measures continue, the need for comprehensive health and safety remains essential both on and off-site. Clear communication and the ability to adapt at pace have allowed us to ensure that increased safety measures don’t need to impact the quality or speed of a project. I am extremely proud of the team as they continue to navigate the pandemic and deliver much-needed facilities across the UK.