Being in business for 50 years has its benefits….. especially when it comes to customer base, we are blessed to have a large and diverse customer list which ranges from Architects to Builders, Pubs to Leisure Centres and Churches to Amusement Centres, so pricing for work never really gets boring, one week I could be pricing for a hospital nurse base and the next week I could be designing and pricing a mobile baptism font…… You just never know what is going to hit your inbox.
In 2018 a package landed which was titled Wolverhampton University Cyber Security. Sounds interesting from the off, the next GCHQ building maybe? Being the biggest Bond fan known to man and all round espionage nerd I was hooked, I wanted this job before I’d even looked at the drawings. The enquiry was from a company called Speller Metcalfe, another construction company we enjoy a great working relationship with. These guys know what we are about, they know that they can send us the drawings and we will take it from there and deliver exactly what the client wants.
It was a fair sized job, with a reception counter, tea stations and lockers. However the architects were a Birmingham firm called Associated Architects. Known for pushing the boundaries with design and functionality they are a stickler for the detail. They know exactly what they want and that’s what they are going to get, and why shouldn’t they. However this does mean a lot of leg work on our part to produce detailed drawings and material samples with data sheets, every alternative or change in material must be checked and double checked. We know this is how they work and we are happy to ablige.
I sent off my enquiries for materials as I worked out how long it would take us to make and install each item, all fairly straight forward and local…… Or was it? As I was reading the spec there was an interesting part which mentioned a site address of Hereford and not Wolverhampton as the name suggests. I am very glad I picked that up when I did as the difference between traveling to Hereford instead of Wolverhampton is rather large, especially when I had calculated there would be around six or seven site visits for the whole team and potentially two or three on top of that for me. The detailed quote was sent off and filed, shortly after we all went down the pub to celebrate breaking up for Christmas.
2019 flew by as all years seem to these days, maybe I’m getting old or I’m just enjoying myself too much, maybe both…… Then at the end of November I received a call from the Quantity Surveyor of this particular job who informed me that they are looking to place and order for the Tea Points……. “But what about the counter and lockers?” I asked. These were going to be ordered with a local company, I asked what we could do to get the whole job and after some tough negotiating we received the order for all the furniture items.
Another Christmas came and went and I received another call to say that the building was at a stage where I could take a look after I had attended the pre start meeting. I took a long drive on an early spring day through the Malvern Hills to Hereford, the roads were quiet, only those who couldn’t work from home were out and about, little did we know what was about to hit us as we sat in the meeting and discussed delivery and installation of the furniture during April and May…
As explained in my previous blog, when an order is placed as part of a large contract I have to attend a pre start meeting to discuss arrangements like how and when and agree the best way to proceed with manufacture and installation of the furniture being ordered. With this particular project the whole building was formed using a construction material called CLT (Cross Laminated Timer). Which is a European engineered wood product which is no less than three layers of softwood which is bonded together in a large machine to create huge section sizes, these are then built up to create walls, floors, supporting columns or beams, you name it they can build any basic or complex structure from it.
The CLT construction is the main design feature of the building, so the architect was keen to use similar if not the same material as the main structure for the main reception counter. After our pre start meeting I loaded up the truck with large offcuts of CLT and hit the road for home, not knowing that the following week the proverbial would well and truly hit the fan.
With all the building sites closed or operating on minimum staff and we were not able to provide social distancing in our workshop, we decided it best to close production until it was safe to re-open, this did free up some time for me to produce drawings for approval of all the items ordered. I started with the reception counter which was quite tricky to figure out how it was all going to come together. I find that drawing whatever you are going to make helps you figure out how it can be done, in the case of this counter I had to set out the desk to calculate spacings of the timber and most importantly how the raised section was going to work with the Corian and glass elements.
Producing drawings for approval is a great way to show the client that you have interpreted their drawings and specification correctly, it also prompts the relevant trades such as electrical contractors or flooring fitters to give their input regarding anything that needs to be considered. In this instance it brought to light that the glass security gate would not fit in the area provided because the counter was too wide for the opening provided on site. This sort of feedback is perfect at this stage, better now than when we wheel the counter in and its too large, we really do need to cross every t and dot every i.
I revised the drawings and submitted them again for approval.
It’s clear to see that the size of the counter is quite a bit smaller, this is to make room for the glass security gate. Also the glass panel to the raised section has been swapped for matching CLT panels with a logo engraved into it. The drawings were submitted and I received no comment, we were good to go when we could go back to work. I spent the remaining weeks of lockdown going through the same process of drawing each remaining unit and submitting for approval and when the day came that we could start back at work we could get cracking.
At the first available opportunity I took the drive to Hereford to see how they were getting on. I met the site manager who told me that progress was slow due to the restrictions but they hope that we can be installing in the next couple of months. Secretly I was hoping this was the usual site manager optimism as nothing could have prepared us for how crazy things were going to be for us after lockdown, more on that later…….
Progress had been made inside, the main hall was looking grand with all the exposed CLT which encased the large windows which overlooked the main entrance and communal area. I managed to establish locations and get some final site sizes for lockers and tea points, armed with this information we would be able to order materials and be ready to go as and when we could.
Upon leaving I was asked if I could supply samples of the specified materials, not unusual by any means, however this request opened up a can of worms……….