Conlon Construction, a specialist provider in the delivery of bespoke special educational needs (SEN) schools, was making great headway on a brand-new campus for The Orchards School, in Stretford, Trafford, when the pandemic hit the UK. As the virus arrived, what ensued was a rallying call from the contractor to its supply chain to adopt revised working practices, as well as implementing MMC, to mitigate the challenges coronavirus inflicted on the industry.
Commissioned by the Department for Education, on behalf of The Dunham Trust, The Orchards’ new campus was designed to offer 14 classrooms and a nursery to cater for 108 children, aged between three and 11, with complex needs and speech and communication difficulties.
Since opening in 2016, the school had occupied a building on the Acre Hall Primary School site in Urmston, however, a host of new facilities were required to support the wellbeing and personalised curriculum of SEN students, including a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool, larger-than-standard classrooms, accessible changing, toilet and shower facilities, a sensory garden and additional immersive spaces which enable improved, tailored learning. Once completed, The Orchards would be marked as one of Greater Manchester’s few schools with this level of provision.
Early in 2020, the development was not only making pace, but was accelerating; Conlon’s supply chain – made up of contractors specifically selected for their proven efficiency – was on track to complete four weeks earlier than the originally scheduled date of October.
The run-up to 23rd March 2020 had seen the team making substantial progress, but the announcement of the UK lockdown put a halt on proceedings. What was a bustling, productive site one day, was significantly impacted the next.
With eight projects live – and with imminent deadlines in sight – Conlon’s senior team responded to the situation by issuing a rallying call to its supply chain and sub-contractors to quickly get to grips with new Government Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for social distancing. As well as having to incorporate these SOPs and temperature checks on site, Conlon also had to contingency plan for the impact of COVID-19 on its two greatest assets – its people and the high-quality materials it incorporates into
Neil Conlon, Business Development Manager at Conlon Construction, said: “We’ve built a truly loyal supply chain – one which shares our mission to actively seek out opportunities which have a positive impact on local communities, and which have social value at their core. Especially in the case of The Orchards, there was no question; we needed to find all the means possible to deliver this school to schedule. People in need were depending on us.
“The immediate reaction to the lockdown was for many house-builders, suppliers and merchants to stop production, which impacted on plant and material supplies. We received correspondence from the Secretary of State which gave implicit guidance that we were to continue working in the safest means possible, but we predicted there would be a significant shortage in materials, which would make that difficult.
“It was a case of utilising our extended networks to gather all the resources required for The Orchards and our other live developments which had been impacted”.
Conlon opted to use structural insulated panels (SIPs), supplied and installed by Innovare Systems, to assist in accelerating the programme. Featuring two layers of particle board, which are bonded either side of a rigid insulation core, SIPs are used to form the main structure of a building – the walls and roof – and can significantly reduce project timescales, offering an ideal solution to make up for the unwelcome break the lockdown had incurred. The Orchards’ building envelope was constructed off site using SIPs, minimising disruption for those living and working in the vicinity of the school, and helped Conlon maintain the four-week lead achieved at the beginning of the construction programme.
Conlon had been appointed to The Orchards development following its 2019 delivery of Cumbria Academy for Autism, a high-quality learning environment for autistic children and young people aged four to 19. The school specialist has also recently completed The Springboard Project for New Bridge Multi Academy Trust, a 50-place SEN school, developed specifically to meet the needs of pupils and students from the age of 14 up to 19 years.
For The Orchards specifically, the school had to facilitate innovative learning approaches for those with speech, language and communication needs (SCLN), severe learning difficulty (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulty (PMLD) and autistic spectrum conditions (ASC), enabling teachers to implement a need-led curriculum which could utilise the building and its amenities to personalise learning for each and every pupil.
Late delivery of The Orchards project would have been to the detriment of families and children depending on an improved, local service that would lead to brighter futures. Thanks to Conlon’s agile supply chain and willingness to inject new means of construction to its traditional ways of working, the school was completed four weeks ahead of schedule, which enabled teachers to prepare their classrooms prior to opening the doors to pupils.
Neil added: “Despite the unfamiliar restrictions and limitations COVID-19 placed upon us, our suppliers and sub-contractors worked tirelessly to ensure we delivered our most recent SEN school to the highest quality. The Orchards will create an outstanding environment in which students will have the space and facilities they need to learn and grow.
“To minimise disruption, with little impact to the final build is an extraordinary feat, considering the challenging times we have all faced. By providing the team and the client with clear and honest progress throughout, they were spurred on with confidence that we could collectively achieve a successful delivery – one which leaves a lasting legacy, living beyond the build itself.”