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Re-focusing on refurbishment as new-build projects slow

The current state of the economy has caused many changes within the construction industry and one we are increasingly seeing is a growing number of clients undertaking forms of refurbishment work, rather than embarking on new-build projects.

Whether it’s a ‘facelift’ or a substantial re-model, there has been a noticeable increase in requirements for estate rationalisation, with clients focusing on how existing properties can be developed to better meet the needs of their businesses and the communities in which they operate.

Potential issues of refurbishment

Although an effective way to make good use of existing buildings, refurbishment work rather than new build does offer its own challenges.

“Some schemes are notoriously difficult to price, but by engaging with the client and design teams we can provide cost certainty”

Projects can often be restricted to the constraints of an existing footprint, which offer logistics challenges. Also, when operating within listed buildings, there may be unforeseen difficulties, which can put pressure on resources and, subsequently, margins.

These types of schemes can also be notoriously difficult to price accurately, but by engaging with the client and design teams early we have been able to produce some innovative solutions while providing cost certainty.

Good communication is vital when undertaking refurbishment projects. Ensuring all parties are kept regularly informed is very important when you are working in live environments such as schools and hospitals, as disrupting education or patient healthcare is simply not an option.

Refurb projects form a vital part of the business

A number of Eric Wright Group projects currently on site include an element of re-modelling and refurbishment work and we are seeing it now make up a larger proportion of our annual turnover.

One such contract is the Wigan University Technical College project at the former Rushton Mill. This is a good example of making better use of a tired property and rejuvenating it to create something more useable and, in this case, of huge value to the community.

The £4.4m project includes refurbishing the mill’s internal space, demolishing the former annexe and building in its place a new three-storey extension in order to provide a unique academic and specialist educational experience for 14 to 19 year olds in the region.

On a larger scale, our £22.8m project at St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool involves working on a live campus to demolish and refurbish parts of the existing school, integrate extensive new-build works and transform the facilities with a modern sixth-form facility and a place of worship.

Taking advantage of opportunities

Although both projects came with their own challenges, they also provided potential opportunities for the wider group.

If you are able to adapt and maintain strong relationships with clients through recognising their changing needs, it may open up further opportunities for both repeat business and services offered by other areas of the business.

“With increased public sector interest, the industry is offering increased scope for contractors to adapt their service offering”

For example, working in conjunction with our facilities management and special projects divisions, the latter of which was only established in March 2012, we have been able to provide ongoing services to our clients once facilities have become operational.

This increased interest from the public sector, particularly within education and healthcare, means increased scope for contractors to adapt their service offering and secure a broader portfolio of refurbishment opportunities into the future.

Jeremy Hartley is managing director of Eric Wright Group

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