Open-access content Thursday 27th September 2012 — updated 2.38pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
From a major once-in-a-generation cleaning project to the erection of a once-in-a-lifetime 15,000 capacity beach volleyball stadium, 2012 has been anything but dull for the facilities team at Horse Guards Parade, writes James Harris.
28 September 2012
More often than not, when an FM is asked how their work is going, the response is a solitary word: 'busy'.
Yet sometimes this word is simply inadequate to convey the sheer volume and variety of work.
For the PriDE organisation providing FM services for the famous Horse Guards Parade at the heart of Westminster, 'busy' does little to describe just how much has been going on in 2012.
PriDE is a joint venture between Interserve and SSE Contracting, specifically created to manage the Defence Infrastructure Organisation's (DIO) South East Regional Prime Contract (SE RPC). The SE RPC is one of five regional prime contracts currently active and being serviced in the UK.
As prime contractor, PriDE is responsible for estate management and construction services at almost 100 MoD sites throughout the South East region, encompassing nearly 6,000 buildings and facilities. These include some of the MoD's largest and most prestigious sites, including RMA Sandhurst, St. James' Palace, Cavalry Barracks and RAF High Wycombe.
"The central London element, which Horse Guards is in, is operated from Wellington Barracks", explains Carl Reid, north area manager for PriDE. In addition to Horse Guards, this element includes Regent's Park, Hyde Park, the Tower of London and the Royal Guardrooms.
The contract has been in force since 2005 and in 2011 it was extended for a further three years. Reid explains that at the start of the arrangement, PriDE mobilised sites sequentially in a planned manner to ensure that the transition was as seamless and efficient as possible for the client.
PriDE's directly employed labour is supported by the delivery team at Wellington Barracks. There is additional support through a live supply chain, providing major and minor maintenance as part of a hard FM service.
PriDE also maintains the switches, alarms and mechanicals within the guard boxes at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and at Horse Guards, as well as lighting, heating and other hard FM responsibilities.
2012 saw the mobilisation and completion of a large project to clean the Grade 1 listed Horse Guards building. This is not an ordinary building, it brings its own challenges and obstacles, and the timeframe for the project was an issue. The deadline was non-negotiable, a result of annual events that simply could not be rescheduled.
In fact 2012 was always going to provide a particularly demanding schedule for the team at Horse Guards, with the beach volleyball for the London Olympic Games to be held on the parade square.
The team was under pressure to complete the project within a three-month window. "We started in the first week of January, and finished in the second week of April," explains PriDE's project manager Gareth Pryce. "Back in the 1940s they just used sand blasting. They'd get a barrel, fill it with sand and compressed air, and that's how they cleaned the outside of the building."
This was the only method available back then, and while it successfully removed half an inch of pollution and smog, it also left some of the stonework damaged.
Now, as enforced by English Heritage for this type and age of building, a heavy steam-clean using a silicone material is required. This patented process, much less destructive on the stone, is known as a 'Jos and Doff' system. It's been used to clean brickwork and façades, particularly for the removal of surface coatings. The technique uses a combination of heat and pressure, which removes unwanted matter without eroding the underlying surface.
Some of the more common challenges associated with cleaning a building of this scale include health and safety, the timeframe and the delicate nature of the stonework. PriDE had all this to deal with - and another, more unusual request.
With the scaffolding erected and covering the entire building, the producers of the new James Bond film Skyfall arrived to ask if they could film on site, hoping to have Bond drive through the Horse Guards entrance in an action-packed chase scene. Keen to help out, the PriDE team was then asked by the film's producers to take the scaffolding down for the scenes.
"It took us three weeks to put it up, so we told them it couldn't be done", says Gareth Pryce. Instead, the camera crew had to film their scene outside on Whitehall - being careful to keep Horse Guards Parade and its scaffolding out of shot.
No two days
Service manager Derek Young is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Horse Guards. Young has a background in engineering, and has worked his way up with over thirty years' experience in the FM sector. He has been involved in the PriDE setup for five years, previously working at St. George's Court.
DIO is PriDE's direct client. Working closely with the military is part and parcel of the job - with the added dimension at Horse Guards Parade and Wellington Barracks of working alongside animals.
Reid knows that being adaptable and having top communication skills is vital.
"It's not a traditional FM relationship; if you take a hospital, you know what the needs are, and they're constant. When you've got a dynamic customer like the Army or the RAF, where their needs are always changing, you need to be flexible to respond to them."
A helpdesk at RMA Sandhurst, which operates on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis, is the central hub for the entire PriDE network. Interacting with other organisations as well as the military is an added complexity.
The parade square itself, although used by the Army, is managed by the Royal Parks, and any maintenance or changes to the building must comply with English Heritage's wishes.
The adaptation of the parade square into a major sporting arena, albeit for two weeks,
was one of the more demanding one-off projects for 2012, with the extraordinary sight of the parade ground, just feet from No.10 Downing Street, hosting the Olympic beach volleyball.
"We put in place a joint PriDE and DIO business continuity plan to ensure any risks of infrastructure failure could be managed," explains Reid. "An example of this was we had standby generators available in case of any major power-supply outages. We knew where we were going to position them and planning was essential so that supplies could be restored as quickly as possible."
During the games, Horse Guards hosted 45,000 visitors every day for a week. The changing of the guard had to be moved across the road onto Whitehall in order to accommodate an athletes' entrance on the Whitehall side of the building.
"We also brought forward some of our planned maintenance to before the event, to ensure it didn't affect the operation, while security issues were minimised by liaising with the police force", says Young.
There is a sense of satisfaction among the team about the way that PriDE dealt with events at Horse Guards. Reid believes that by working closely with the DIO during events such as the Olympics, "makes you drill down to that next level, makes you more aware; in other words it 'sharpens your pencil'."
The requirement to fund a large-scale cleaning and repairs project in a time of austerity illustrates the unique nature of the FM challenge and the financial pressure involved; the client's budget is managed by the Treasury, with close liaison with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office and Downing Street.
Considering the year they've had, and their achievements, the PriDE team can feel satisfied - and filled with, well, pride.
Starting blocks - beach volleyball
As one of London 2012's temporary venues, there were challenges in constructing the largest-ever Olympic beach volleyball stadium. Drivers Jonas Deloitte was brought in to complete the job.
With a capacity of 15,000, construction would normally take up to 14 months. But time constraints involving other events that the team at PriDE had encountered meant the construction team could not start its work until 18 June, leaving just 36 days to erect the arena, broadcast facilities, catering and toilets. 15,104 ft of internal fencing, and 9,184 ft of perimeter fencing was used, and up to 100 vehicles and 500 people were working on site.
Over 4,000 tonnes of sand was transferred from a quarry in Surrey in order to create the courts. The square also held two practice courts, with a further six practice courts set up in St. James' Park.