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Winning hearts and minds in New Islington

Mark Gardner on social responsibility

New Islington is a fairly rough area of Manchester. When we talked to the people early on in the project it became clear that although housing was in a fairly poor condition, there was this massive community bonding.

You would expect that when you move someone into a new house they would be happy. But they weren’t, because they had lived together for 10 years in that street and the guy next door would help them when they were ill.

So to win the residents over you have to be honest and adopt a very clear approach. Lay out your intentions and explain to people what the project is going to deliver for them as a community when the work has been completed.

As part of this strategy we took pictures of the machines we would be using with workers standing next to them, so that residents could see the size. We also told them they were going to get dust, vibration and noise.

Using liaison officers is also crucial and Urban Splash took on that role for us on the New Islington project. You have to tell them that there is going to be disruption and that it is going to be inconvenient. But, once finished, we will be leaving behind something that we will be proud of.

We went to schools – not only to explain the hazards. The project managers gave talks to the pupils outlining the career opportunities in engineering.

We ran competitions and held barbecue nights. By the end of the process we had got to know the people. We respected their opinions and they gave us their trust. Provided you don’t jeopardise that you can have a successful job.

Half of the labour we took on was local, including unemployed school leavers who we put through apprenticeships – one of them won apprentice of the year. It’s not rocket science, it’s about honesty, enthusiasm, belief in the job and trust. I think that’s why we won the Project Leadership prize in the Constructing Excellence Awards.

Mark Gardner is north-west business manager of Volker Stevin