Millions of community assets — including schools — across the country are currently closed in a bid to combat the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in society. Technical Director Michael Smith, of Perfect Circle, discusses how it is important local authorities 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, children who have only had contact with their friends through a screen and vulnerable people locked in isolation for weeks will be longing to once again experience real social interaction with classmates, family and friends.
Community centres nationwide have closed their doors — as councilors seek to enforce the government’s advice for people to socially distance themselves — and ‘skeleton’ schools are running at 10% capacity to cater for pupils of key workers and vulnerable children.
In his address to the nation on 18 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that schools would be closed “until further notice”, leaving a lot of ambiguity on how long the lockdown measures would last.
Services will re-open when advice shows it is safe to do so. However, while it is too early in the fight against coronavirus to predict when this is likely to happen, now is the perfect time for local authorities to be getting prepared for a full reactivation.
The risks of returning to ‘mothballed’ buildings
When quarantine measures are relaxed and the country begins experiencing 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.
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 key holders 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 do not 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.
Once strict lockdown measures have been lifted, it will be 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 normal as quickly as possible.