Sunday 13th December 2020
The UK was brought to a standstill on 23 March and suddenly many of our day-to-day needs were jeopardized. Keeping people safe and secure in their homes was essential but what about neighbourhoods undergoing a change in their responsive repairs service? Steph Hurdman, Head of Mobilisation at Wates Living Space, explains how she kept maintenance moving during the pandemic...
Going live in lockdown
We’ve successfully mobilised five new housing repairs contracts since the pandemic turned our personal and professional lives upside down in March. Inducting, training and TUPEing 187 personnel and readying 181 vehicles in the face of unprecedented restrictions would have seemed an impossible feat at the start of the year. But where there is a will there's a way, and we found it.
Our 10-year housing repairs contract with West Lancashire Borough Council went live on 1 April - eight days after the first stay-at-home order was announced by the government. Within that week, we transformed a three-day, in-person induction process to a one-day virtual event, delivered via Skype and supported by two facilitators on site. This was very much a leap into the unknown, we had never carried out inductions virtually before during contract go live and in such a compressed timescale.
We also arranged early delivery of the vehicle fleet to enable our operatives to carry out emergency repairs for the Council’s 5,900 homes. We’d been tracking the development of the pandemic and had clear mitigation plans in place which enabled us to bring forward the delivery date. This proved to be the final day our supplier was operating as normal because the following day saw its team furloughed.
Our call centre function was also rapidly diverted as part of our efforts. We ensured all our agents could operate safely from home during the lockdown and all staff and systems were in place by 0800 that very first morning.
Post-pandemic best practice
Of course, it was an incredibly challenging time but our client truly appreciated our efforts to keep residents safe in their homes. We’re always striving for continual improvement and we made some fantastic efficiencies, not least reducing travel time and resources. In many ways, COVID-19 has seen us accelerate innovations that we were already working towards and we’ll continue to uphold long after the pandemic reduces its grip on the UK.
They can be seen in our deployment of a 10-year responsive repairs programme for Crawley Borough Council and five-year repairs and maintenance contract for Barnsley on 1 July. Incredibly, the team was able to mobilise works for these completely different clients, in totally different parts of the UK, on the same day. We were able to TUPE across entirely different teams in the North and South of the country at the same time, some of whom had previously been furloughed or categorised as coronavirus high risk.
Our training programme for Barnsley also required a new approach because we were unable to find an appropriate training venue due to the local restrictions in place in the area. However, we realised that with some strategic planning and reorganisation we were able to convert one of our Wates offices into a suitable teaching facility. We created a completely COVID-secure layout incorporating one-way systems and social distancing markers and hired training equipment to support our efforts. As a result, we were able to train 100 new personnel over the course of two weeks, welcoming a new group of people every day.
Collectively, it was an amazing piece of team work involving alternative-thinking, complex planning and application of technology and I’m extremely proud of the efforts of everyone who enabled it to take place so seamlessly.
Ingenuity and professional growth
I’m often asked about the challenges I face as Head of Mobilisation for a nationwide contractor and it has always been a demanding process, even in the days pre-pandemic. However, the restrictions to travel, movement and ongoing uncertainty have made my role seem almost impossible at times this year. We’ve had to safely transfer staff in extremely complex lockdown circumstances, working with union representatives and our clients to implement novel approaches to the process. We’ve had to develop logistical solutions to what first appeared to be insurmountable barriers, in order to successfully hit the ground running and keep residents and our workforce safe at all times.
I don’t think many of us can say that 2020 has been a particularly good year on a personal level but for me professionally, it has been incredibly fulfilling. The pandemic may have tested my ingenuity in ways I never expected but with challenge comes opportunity and Wates’ ability to mobilise housing maintenance and keep responsive repairs up and running is all the stronger for it.