Talking construction: Behind the scenes of care home revamp

In this article we speak to Geoff Leaver and Peter Creswell from John Turner Construction Group about its work to refurbish a Heathlands Village, a Jewish elderly care home in Greater Manchester. Find out about the challenges and pitfalls of working in a 'live' environment

John Turner Construction Group has completed work to refurbish Heathlands Village in Prestwich, Greater Manchester

With the focus increasingly on design best practice when it comes to the creation of health and social care environments, in this feature we are switching attention to construction. Here, we speak to site engineer, Geoff Leaver; and project manager, Peter Creswell, from John Turner Construction Group about the challenges of working on a ‘live’ care home site

In September 2013, builders from John Turner Construction Group began a challenging project to refurbish Heathlands Village, a large care home in Prestwich, Greater Manchester.

Designed by Buttress Architects, the facility is run by social care charity, The Fed, and specialises in caring for residents from the Jewish faith.

The only care home in the region with a GP surgery on the premises, it is set in five acres, with landscaped grounds surrounded by a golf course and moorland.

The improvements aimed to transform the 1970s building into a bright, contemporary, 21st-century home that would allow safe and easy access to the building’s newly-designed communal areas and gardens.

Prior to construction, a temporary village was erected using modular units. This would be on site for the duration of the work, providing a base for the building crew.

But working on a project of this magnitude while the buildings remain fully operational proved a challenge for the team.

It is a challenge to cope with carrying out major reconstruction in a care home occupied by more than 170 residents and with daily traffic of over 100 staff and visitors

Creswell explains: “It is a challenge to cope with carrying out major reconstruction in a care home occupied by more than 170 residents and with daily traffic of over 100 staff and visitors.

“This was definitely the most ‘live’ job I’ve done to date, but it was a great learning opportunity.” Key to the success of the project was the interaction between the construction workers and the residents.

Creswell told BBH: “The first thing I tell any of the lads on induction to this job is that you are working in someone’s home and you must treat them with courtesy and respect. From the feedback we’ve had they have all taken that on board really well and it paved the way for a really good relationship.

“Our impression is that, despite the frustration at having their surroundings disrupted, residents have actually enjoyed having us around and watching the work progress. They’ve taken a lot of interest in watching the work and one guy, Raymond, has loved chatting to them and offering to wrestle them – he’s been around us so much we’ve nicknamed him ‘the site supervisor’.”

But aside from appeasing the residents and staff, the team also came up against a number of hurdles, which they had to deal with while operations within the care home continued.

Creswell explained: “The biggest hitch was about halfway through the project. We’d known there were issues with the internal main drains, but hadn’t imagined just how bad they were. We were all set to hand over the atrium and reception areas and move onto working on the medical area and linking up the old Sunny Lounge and Coffee Lounge when we discovered the drains well exceeded their shelf life.”

Engineer, Leaver, added: “They were in a terrible state. They were old pitch fibre drains which were beyond economical repair and needed completely replacing. That meant digging a 2m-deep trench, extending from the new lawn area at the front of the main building, right through Balcombe Hall, to the back of the building.

The first thing I tell any of the lads on induction to this job is that you are working in someone’s home and you must treat them with courtesy and respect. From the feedback we’ve had they have all taken that on board really well and it paved the way for a really good relationship

“The worst of it was that this had to cut across the main ground floor corridor which gives access to the communal areas – the shul (synagogue), memorial hall, restaurant, activity room, shop and lifts to private rooms. It was potential a nightmare, but we managed it very well by creating partitions and standing ‘banksmen’ on the corridor. They controlled the flow of work versus the flow of people – a bit like operating a temporary traffic lights system. On top of this, over the eight weeks it took to remove and replace the drains, we still had to keep the drainage functioning.”

Later in the build it was also discovered that the windows around the new atrium needed replacing. Working for a charity, this surprise cost took some time to sign off.

Leaver said: “For me it was my first time working with a charity with a hierarchical structure relating to budgetary decisions. We’re used to working with one person, maybe the architect, who can decide if a payment can be made from the contingency fund.

“When we realised that the windows needed replacing, this ended up being done pretty piecemeal and the process was slowed down, as the decision to incur this unexpected expense had to go through The Fed’s formal process, right up to board level. But that just highlights the care they take as charity not to spend a penny more than they need to.”

Plus, they had to plan all work around the Jewish religious calendar.

For me it was my first time working with a charity with a hierarchical structure relating to budgetary decisions

Creswell said: “We had to adapt to working round the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays while maintaining a tight programme and avoiding delays. But, on the other hand, we saw opportunities to make up time by working on Sundays, which isn’t normal in the trade, and actually this proved really productive.

“We increased labour where we could to move things on faster. On the whole, yes it did add to the complexity of the job, but by no means did it cause any real issues.”

The result of this work is that construction was completed ahead of schedule and the facility is now futureproofed, providing a modern, purpose-built care environment for its elderly residents.

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