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'Building the Nightingale North West' with BDP & Friends

In what was nothing short of an extraordinary feat of engineering, collaboration, innovation and sheer determination, the creation of the Nightingale NW presented enormous challenges on every level.

In this very special webinar that took place live at our #DPU Manchester 2021 exhibition, we spoke with some of the team involved in delivering the project and consider what learnings could be taken forward to a variety of sectors in the future.

Watch the full recording of the webinar on our YouTube Channel

Meet the panel

  • Emma Lepley – Architect Associate, BDP Design team lead for the hospital

  • Major Matt Fry – Civil Engineer, Royal Engineers

  • Paul Jackson – IHP P22 framework Manager

  • John Fowler – Contract Manager Building Division, North – Vinci Construction UK

  • Shaun Hinds – Chief Executive, Manchester Central

  • Neil Grice – Associate Director, Archus

Our expert panel for the 'Building the Nightingale NW' presentation

Setting the scene: a global pandemic

Back in March 2020, the world was in a state of panic. The COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip, and extreme measures were needed to cope with the constantly changing situation. With the UK’s first lockdown put into place on 23rd March and hospitals already unable to cope with the volume of patients, plans were put in place to build emergency surge hospitals around the UK.

The first Nightingale Hospital opened at the Excel Centre in London on 3rd April. Still, work was already starting around the UK on a series of other hospitals to cope with the unprecedented demand. The scale of the challenge was intimidating: how to plan, source, test, and deliver a fully functioning hospital in just 14 days amid a national lockdown.

The right team for the job

Ensuring that the right team was in place to deliver the project on track and brief was essential. BDP had already been involved in the London Nightingale project, so it was logical to continue with the NW project and join Archus, IHP and Motts. Once the site was selected, the Manchester Central team were on board, and the Trust established to manage the project was on hand throughout.

The British Army Royal Engineers played a vital role in the project management and delivery of the hospital. Trained in the field and used to constantly shifting parameters and unstable conditions, the Army approach cut through the noise and got straight to the absolute essentials. They played an invaluable role in establishing the schedules and communication frameworks that enabled the project to be delivered.

While our panel represented several of the organisations involved in the project, they were quick to point out that many more people were involved. It was only as a result of the combined efforts of every member of the cross-functional, cross-organisation team that the project was completed.

Having an existing framework under the NHS P22 procurement scheme meant that some of the pre-selection processes were dramatically simplified. It was a case of appointing pre-approved partners rather than going through a tendering process for project management and goods procurement. Having that framework in place significantly sped up the process and made the project's timeline more achievable, even though it was still an enormous challenge.

Choosing the site

Choosing the right location for the Nightingale was a challenge, and several different sites were in the mix. In addition, the area needed to fit several precise criteria, spanning access, infrastructure, accessibility and logistics.

A Grade II listed building that has been used in many different ways since its original construction in 1880, Manchester Central started life as a railway station and was renovated in 1982 to become the G-Mex exhibition centre. It has hosted countless events and conventions in its lifetime and has been meticulously cared for throughout. Offering a central location and ready-installed utilities, it offered a promising option as the required emergency medical facility.

There were a lot of considerations necessary in choosing the site, and it was a case of balancing the risks, as there wasn’t time for a “perfect” solution,” explained Shaun Hinds of Manchester Central.

Shaund Hinds, CEO, Manchester Central

“There were other sites in contention but the location and infrastructure made it the best option.”

Paul Jackson praised the impeccable maintenance of the building as well, saying: “The fact that regular checks had been made was a real advantage. Everything was spot on, which isn’t always the case with listed buildings, which made everything much easier.”

Nightingale North West - Manchester Central

The stark reality of the situation meant that on-site provision had to be made for medical treatment and staff facilities and storage of bodies. The politics and logistical complexities made it a tough decision, but there was no time to waste once the site had been chosen.

Working to strict time constraints with military precision

Under usual circumstances, it would take months or even years to build a hospital. But, unfortunately, the bureaucracy and planning regulations alone can stretch into years, so attempting to deliver this project within two weeks was always going to be a considerable challenge.

“All the usual RIBA framework stages of a project had to happen at once,” explained Emma Lepley. “While taking strategic briefing decisions, we were also doing detailed design, M&E queries and development, with all the elements constantly changing, as well as liaising with building and planning control. Given the short time scale, we often had to work with what was available; logistically, we couldn’t necessarily pick and choose the perfect solution.”

As mentioned, the procurement and partner appointment process was expedited thanks to the NHS P22 framework, but the project’s day-to-day running needed an unprecedented pace. This was a project on which every minute genuinely made a difference, and concurrent workstreams had to be managed 24/7 to stand a chance of delivering all the different elements on time.

Represented by Major Matt Fry, the British Army Royal Engineers played a pivotal role in keeping the project on track, and it was, according to Emma Lepley and the rest of the panel, “a master class in communication and project management.”

Looking through the chaos

“We are trained in chaos,” said Major Fry. “We are used to working in volatile, rapidly changing conditions where at any given minute, the whole project can change. We are therefore used to cutting through to the critical factors with the biggest implications. We also knew this could change at any minute, so we had to remain mindful that we didn’t want it all to become redundant if the parameters changed. It was about building resilience and redundancy into the plan at every step.”

Major Matt Fry, Civil Engineer, Royal Engineers

However, working in the field is a very different proposition to working within the healthcare and constructions sectors, let alone considering the uncertain backdrop of the pandemic. Working with people more accustomed to protracted timelines and highly detailed planning, Major Fry said he was incredibly impressed at how fast the people on the ground were able to adapt and take charge.

“Within two weeks, people who had looked lost on day one had stepped up, outside their comfort zone, and become confident making these huge decisions on the spot. They had never attempted anything like this before, and it was an amazing thing to witness and be a part of.”