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Open Doors Week: Willmott Dixon's University of Sussex scheme

In Falmer, near Brighton, Willmott Dixon has chosen a site that is guaranteed to be full of students during this year’s Open Doors Week.

That’s because it’s a scheme for the University of Sussex: a £7.4m refurbishment including interior fit-out, M&E, façade improvements and new roof coverings for its Chichester I building.

Senior quantity surveyor on this project, Matt Easton, is full of passion and drive as he takes us around the refurbishment.

Willmott Dixon Interiors is carrying out the works with staff and students still in-situ: as each phase completes, those who work and study here move from one part of the building back into newly remodelled facilities, while Willmott head on to upgrade the next section of Chichester I.

We pass university admin staff working in bright, brand new spaces with high-end technology installed, while just yards away, plasterboard and false ceilings are being torn down as part of the next phase.

The scheme has a 52-week timetable with zero breaks during 2016; this live construction site will continue to service users as overseas and privately sponsored students come to study during the summer.

More than two-thirds of Willmott Dixon Interiors’ projects are on live sites, sales and marketing manager Henry Mayes says, so the way of working is not unusual.

“Fast set up, fast delivery, fast exit – it’s what the client wants,” says Henry.

“People forget – [a university] is a business. It can’t just shut its doors at the beginning of July.”

Willmott Dixon Interiors is preparing for classrooms of schoolchildren to visit later this week, but Matt thinks it will take more than a site visit to convince young people to get into the industry.

“It’s difficult enough to get them to leave the house,” he says, of getting young people interested in a five-day work week.

“They have to complete a day’s health and safety, and get their CSCS before they’re even allowed near a site.

“CSCS is hard to get and costs them £350, and we’re often having to hold their hands through it.”

Willmott Dixon management trainee Sam adds: “A lot of these young guys and girls leaving school don’t enjoy that way of learning, they come to construction and the first thing you’re saying to them is ‘okay, go and do this test’.”

Open doors 16 willmott dixon university of sussex 3

Open doors 16 willmott dixon university of sussex 3

The resident fish in the building’s courtyard pond have come to associate hi-vis jackets with being fed

One visitor on our tour is 19-year-old Dan, a locally trained plumber who became interested in the industry through family ties. While he was looking for work, Brighton council’s Youth Employability Service got in touch via Facebook and suggested he visit Willmott Dixon’s project to go on a two-week work placement.

During that fortnight, he spent time with Willmott’s site managers, management trainees, the surveyors and meeting employees across the site – including mechanical subcontractor BMS, where he now has a full time contract.

“It was great for me – it was just about getting stuck in,” he says.

“They showed me what to do, how to do it safely, and then let me get on with it.”

Dan now has work ahead of him for months to come, including a London job after this university project is completed, which will only improve his chances of carving out a rewarding career in the industry.

All the contractors taking part in Open Doors Week will be hoping their sites are able to inspire a few teenagers like Dan this week, too.

University of Sussex: Chichester I building

Contractor: Willmott Dixon Interiors
Architect: RHP
Engineer: Arup
Project management: Capita
Cost consultant: Currie and Brown
Mechanical subcontractor: BMS
Client: University of Sussex
Location: Falmer, East Sussex
Value: £7.4m
Start date: Janaury 2016
Completion date: December 2016

Open another door

Interested in Open Doors Week? Tackling the skills shortage and innovative construction are key themes at this year’s Construction News Summit on 11-12 October.

You can save 10 per cent on your place at the Summit when booking online! Book your place now using promotional code OPENDOORS.

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