As restrictions begin to ease and millions of community assets across the country start to re-open following months of closure due to COVID-19, Michael Smith, Technical Director of Perfect Circle, discusses why it is important for local authorities to have remobilisation plans in place so these vital services can get back up and running as quickly and safely as possible.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, those who have only had contact with their friends and family through a screen and vulnerable people locked in isolation for weeks will be longing to once again experience real social interaction.
When the pandemic first hit Britain, community centres nationwide closed their doors and ‘skeleton’ schools started running at 10% capacity to cater for pupils of key workers and vulnerable children, with only a select few primary school year groups returning to their classrooms at the beginning of June.
As Government guidance changes and services begin to re-open, now is the perfect time for local authorities to be getting prepared for a full reactivation.
The risks of returning to ‘mothballed’ buildings
With quarantine measures starting to relax and the country beginning to experience some form of normality again, it is vital that local authorities work to bring much-loved beacons of the community – such as leisure and community centres and schools – back up and running safely.
But there are risks associated with people going back into a building that has been closed over a period of time. So, ‘mothballing’ these assets or at least reducing their maintenance regime to a low level will be required, which will, in turn, save money.
Even during a shutdown, building owners, landlords and tenants will still need to maintain their buildings for security purposes, to achieve statutory compliance and satisfy any insurance implications, and to protect the fabric of the building and critical systems.
At Perfect Circle, we follow SFG20, the definitive standard for building maintenance, and its sister standard SFG30, which is a step-by-step process, covering both mothballing and recommissioning activities – to ensure buildings are ready for rapid and full reactivation when business returns to normal.
For example, SFG20 cites the importance of local police and fire services being given details of the nominated keyholders in case emergency entry is needed, and combustible and non-combustible waste and refuse being removed from the site in order to comply with fire safety requirements.
From our experience, the key to remobilising quickly is to concentrate on areas of statutory compliance first. In particular, the following areas should be treated as a priority:
• Fire systems
• Pressure systems
• Water quality
• Water treatment
Other systems can then be returned to service on a business-critical basis based on the building’s use.
The importance of maintaining statutory compliance
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently published its ‘carrying out thorough examination and testing (TE&T) of lifting and pressure equipment during the coronavirus outbreak’ guidance note.
The document, which is specifically aimed at lifting equipment and pressure systems, states: “HSE recognises that there may be some circumstances that will lead to equipment falling outside its time limits for thorough examination and testing, and; therefore, duty holders being unable to comply with the law and having to take the equipment out of service if unable to operate it safely”.
The guidance note further states: “The statutory obligation to ensure that work plant and equipment is maintained and is safe to use remains in place and the use of TE&T continues to be a fundamental part of the management process. HSE expects duty holders to make all reasonable efforts to arrange for TE&T to be carried out within the statutory time limits.”
It is, therefore, clear that statutory obligations remain in place and if these cannot be met, equipment must be taken out of service.
Getting to work quickly
Normally, these decisions will have been planned over many months. But now, they’re having to be taken within days, which can be a concern for local authorities without mothballing and remobilisation plans in place.
At Perfect Circle, we deliver the broadest range of consultancy services available to the public sector, working exclusively on Scape Group’s National Built Environment Consultancy Services (BECS) framework, which is the most efficient route to market, allowing direct award for commissioning services with full public procurement compliance.
For those local authorities that don’t already have arrangements in place, the BECS framework significantly reduces the time needed for brief preparation and procurement procedures, enabling earlier delivery of projects and programmes and allowing the public sector to get hold of urgently needed and time-critical services.
Re-building real-life connections after isolation
Community centres and schools play significant roles in society; while one supports older and vulnerable people to retain independence, the other is instrumental in a child’s development.
Now strict lockdown measures are being lifted further, it is more important than ever before to get these buildings back up and running so communities can start to rebuild the real-life connections that will have no doubt reduced while in isolation.
We understand that assets are vehicles that enable the public sector to deliver much-needed and loved services that benefit the local population and help to combat loneliness. And, therefore, recognise that it is imperative to have a strategy in place for bringing communities back into these buildings efficiently and safely so society can return to the new normal as quickly as possible.
Michael Smith is a Technical Director at AECOM, one of Perfect Circle’s shareholders and founding partners. He has more than 20 years’ professional experience as an asset manager and building surveyor. He has worked in various sectors including defence, nuclear, commercial, social housing, and local and central Government.