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Willmott Dixon highlights measures to build safely during Covid-19

Willmott Dixon has highlighted the measures it has implemented to build safely during Covid-19 at Stockton’s Globe Theatre.

The independent construction and property services company, has over 95 per cent of its projects open after implementing the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Site Operating Procedures to ensure sites remain safe environments to work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Government has consistently said it wants construction sites to continue while observing the CLC procedures as projects being delivered have an important impact on future economic growth. Willmott Dixon has been able to maintain its high rate of sites kept open by adhering to social distancing practices, and has provided a glimpse of how that is happening at Stockton’s Grade Two listed Globe Theatre.

Originally opened in 1913 as Teesside’s first purpose-built cinema, the popular local landmark hosted acts including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Cliff Richard before closing in 1996. Procured via Major Works England and Northern Ireland, a part of the Scape National Construction framework, Willmott Dixon was appointed by Stockton Council to renovate it as a 3,000-capacity music and comedy venue, which will be operated by industry leader Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG).

Construction Manager Mark Wolverson explained how the project adapted to working during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Following the Prime Minister’s announcement about the lockdown, our first action was to review who needed to be on site and who could work from home. This led to the reallocation of design and commercial personnel to home working environments.

“Also, our site’s offices are in a large building adjacent to the Globe, so this allowed us to space desks to abide by the two metre social distancing requirements. Within the theatre itself, one-way systems were implemented on staircases to avoid paths being crossed and two metre spacing was marked for safe working. To further the social distancing message, we installed motion activated voiceover systems to remind operatives to abide by social distancing when entering the site, while hand sanitiser is plentiful and available in meeting rooms, on desks, and all site entrances and exits.”

Communication remains key

Extensive communication underlines the message, Wolverson added: “Each morning we hold ‘toolbox talks’ with our people and supply chain partners. These meetings explain the latest guidance and operating procedures, ensuring everyone knows how they are expected to work within the guidelines. The talks are held in large open spaces, allowing everyone to abide by the two-metre rule. If anyone shows symptoms of the Coronavirus or needs to self-isolate, they are empowered to do so, and it is critical they abide by this directive.”

He continued: “The safety of our people and supply chain extends beyond the project’s boundaries. Everyone has a letter explaining their need to be outside their home in case they are questioned by law enforcement.”

Reshaping the project’s plan to deal with supply shortages

The biggest challenge is the supply of materials and the availability of supply chain partners, who are empowered to make their own decisions about continuing to operate. Where a supply chain partner has not able to deliver on time, the Willmott Dixon team used the opportunity to be innovative.

Wolverson explained: “We reviewed the project’s plan, looking at the supply chain resource we have and the tasks that can be brought forward. This has included changing the construction of key walls to masonry, as the metal decking contractor furloughed their workforce before the roof was completed. Taking this action has allowed our brickwork partner to keep their team employed. We actively engaged our supply chain partners who were able to continue to work on site, ensuring we prioritised activities that kept them going while maintaining the two metre social distancing rule.”

Confidence returns among trade contractors

Wolverson continued: “Through our safe working practices, we are seeing more supply chain partners returning on a weekly basis, which is enabling more tasks to be completed. We have had supply chain partners comment they feel safer on site in comparison to their local supermarket, and are pleased to be able to continue their work.

“The supply of materials has been a challenge, as heritage projects require many specialist materials. As the Government increased social distancing measures, some builders’ merchants and specialist suppliers temporarily close. However, there is an upward trend in openings, and Stockton Council has been very supportive, with the Globe critical for the local economy, in helping obtain materials.”

The Globe will open in 2021.

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