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16 January 2019
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From Belfast, via Downing St

24 November 2011

by Martin Read

For the 15th annual BIFM Ireland region conference, organiser Danny McAuley and his team pulled out all the stops to offer some 
fascinating presentations.

Alban Maginness, chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s enterprise committee, opened proceedings at the Waterfront Centre by updating delegates on the progress of two major new visitor attractions set to open in the province next year. The Titanic Quarter and Giant’s Causeway Visitors Centre would show how dynamic the province had become, said Maginness.

It was then over to Eric Hepburn, chief operations officer at No.10 Downing Street, to paint a colourful picture of how FM is conducted behind the nation’s most famous front door. Hepburn explained the limitations forced on him and his team by the media circus that’s parked, literally, outside his front window. This makes it difficult to carry out major renovation work, with each project likely to lead to scurrilous reports of the Prime Minister spending public money on his own house at a time of national austerity.

Nevertheless, work is certainly needed on a building that was last officially refurbished back in 1963. So how do you deal with ancient ICT, electricals, gutter leaks and a roof in desperate need of repair? For Hepburn, the solution was to turn a handful of major projects into a series of small ones. Each lasts three months, with contractual arrangements set so that in the event of the national interest intervening, there’s an agreed fixed price to call a halt to any ongoing works. Hepburn also claims that the short project duration makes it easier to show the benefits: “they can see the point of what you do.”

Hepburn also revealed that members of the Downing Street FM team are often the recipients of personal thank you notes from the Prime Minister. “I ask the PM to write notes to my team,” said Hepburn, “and he’s happy to do it.”

Turnover is low among staff on the total FM contract for Downing Street. “We’re not paying them anymore than normal,” Hepburn confirms. “But what they have is a sense of pride in working in Downing Street.

Surveying succeeds

Architect Dawson Stelfox of the Consarc Design Group was next on to the stage, presenting on the theme of whether old buildings be green buildings. He pointed out that the energy cost of demolishing a typical Victorian house was 
enough to fill a car with 15,000 litres of petrol, which is enough to drive it around the world five times, according to figures from English Heritage.
Stelfox claimed that a quarter of UK landfill is demolition waste, with only four per cent recycled. He was also keen to debunk a few myths. Sash windows, for instance, can be operated at close to the same efficiency as uPVC windows, providing they are refurbished correctly.

Indeed, entire Victorian houses can be adapted for the modern world with extensions, allowing for the greater use of energy-saving technologies. Stelfox highlighted a number of innovative projects that have boosted the performance of older buildings, such as underground heat exchanges. Costs only get out of control when insufficient surveying is done in the first place, he said. Today’s laser scanning techniques make it possible for surveyors to calculate any works required with far more cost certainty.

Beth Goodyear of FMHS Consulting ended the morning with a lively presentation on the subject of… presentations. Tapping in to the natural fear of public speaking held by so many people, Goodyear explained that preparation was the key; time should be set aside to practise, with equipment such as laptops and screen pointers all tested ahead of the event.

Memory aides and prompts to general themes were a better idea than attempting to memorise whole scripts, while a consistent approach to Powerpoint slides helps to get your message across, she said.

Flaming nuisance
In the afternoon, Stewart Kidd, managing director of Loss Prevention Consultancy, entertained as much as he enlightened with an impassioned presentation on cost-effective fire safety management.

Most depressing was to hear about just how many fires were started deliberately in the UK – the cost of arson was estimated at 
£2.4 billion in 2004. Between 40 and 65 per cent of fires in the UK are started deliberately.

“Contrary to what most assume, financial gain and insurance fraud are not the main motives for arson,” said Kidd. “It’s usually people who are drunk or on drugs. What’s more, under the Management of Health & Safety at Works regulations, you have a duty of care to provide a safe place of work for everyone in your building – including the arsonists. And what does it say about society that a quarter of all hospital fires 
are deliberate?” 

Martin Read is managing editor of FM World