Nearing Completion Then This

It’s early March 2020 in SW London and we have reached the point of the project where the countdown begins. Final fix items are arriving on site, rooms and areas are being signed off and the engineers are testing and commissioning systems and services.

With only a few weeks to our deadline, we are raising the game, digging deep as we always do in the lead up to a handover. Then, Covid 19 made it’s inexorable way to the British Isles.

On the 23rd of March we listened to Boris Johnson’s message, and (what we now know was the inevitable) lockdown began. The following day we closed the site and took stock. The reality was finally here.

How do we reconcile what is going on around us? For explorers, entering the unknown is a source of great excitement. Rare is the opportunity to go where no person has been before. We have probed almost every inch of our planet, and now we look to the cosmos for pastures new. Yet here we are entering the unknown globally – we enter it as a planet.

But is this new experience exciting in any way? Offset by considerable suffering and death – are we allowed to feel excitement? There is plenty of rhetoric around “a new beginning, things won’t be the same again, so many positives will come from this”. But set alongside the more prevailing descriptions of crisis, catastrophe and emergency, how do we synthesize these conflicting sentiments? How are we going to behave?

There is of course unprecedented bravery, selflessness and camaraderie on the front line and in communities. The situation has brought out the very best in many. But as the rest of us do our part and stay at home, work from home (“if we are able”) and school our children from home (if we have them), this adventure into the unknown feels very stationary.

March 24th - The construction industry has not formally been closed down. Sites are being kept operational wherever it is practical and safe to do so, according to the Secretary of State. New site operating procedures from The Construction Leadership Council are published and we remember what Boris said about “only going to your workplace if you cannot work from home”.

Construction workers are now confused. Management are faced with a situation, a decision, a challenge, an opportunity? We suddenly count ourselves fortunate as we digest the idea that we may be able to continue work. So we put our heads together and work out what we can do.

In our case we have clients (a family) who are highly motivated to move in. We know we cannot now complete the house in time under the new conditions. We don’t even know what we can get done under these conditions. But they still want to move in. It’s understandable.

Can we get and Extension of Time?

Does the contract allow for a Force Majeure?

If we are not closed down by Government, is it indeed a Force Majeure?

Do we want to get legal? Or do we want to get the job done?

Of course we want the job done, who doesn’t? There is no certainty so we need clarity.

We can get clarity through activity, so we re- open the site. We re-calculate, re-program and re-purpose so we can get on with the job. We adapt.

As construction specialists we spend our time solving problems. At Beam we always put the project at the centre and work out what to do around it. We have kept the site operating and kept everybody safe. The Site Manager has stepped up to a new level of responsibility. New ways of coordinating, new levels of priority and the same pressure but with fewer resources.

We’ve done everything we can, but it’s not enough. Now the client steps up. They agree that an extra two weeks should be added to the program. We have all agreed that this will be enough to get it done. It’s a massive disruption to them as they re-book removals and time off work but everyone understands that it can only work like this. It’s a team effort and the client is included.

It’s now ten days to handover and we are on track. This project will be a success and whilst we will not forget the difficulties experienced in finishing it, the result will be worth it.

Dan Grimshaw
Mark McConnachie