Open-access content Tuesday 18th October 2011 — updated 2.38pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
A new breed of manager at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is bringing the historic pound into the 21st century. Martin Read reports
13 October 2011
Arriving at Battersea after a short career break, Bridges knew the challenge would differ somewhat from his previous post as Pearson Group's director of operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The publisher's portfolio includes properties in Istanbul, Milan and Madrid - Battersea's, by contrast, are in south London, Old Windsor and Brands Hatch in Kent.
And certainly, Battersea is far from a typical facilities operation. The organisations's unique challenge requires a facilities service that's part hotel, visitor centre, hospital and secure facility.
Initially, Bridges was brought onboard as head of estates to oversee the construction of a new car park and dog exercise yard. Seen from the train out of Victoria Station, London, both are highly visible signs of the site's recent development. During his initial placement, Bridges was also tasked with setting up a few FM staples; a business continuity plan and health and safety manual, plugging gaps in the Home's FM infrastructure. But it was immediately clear to Bridges that the charity's intentions required more than six months' attention - and accordingly, Bridges was appointed to the head of estates role on a full-time basis in 2008.
It's been an eventful few years since then. As well as serving a stint as interim chief executive for nine months, Bridges' job titles currently include deputy chief executive, director of operations and director of estates and facilities (the operational part of will be reviewed next year).
Leading the pack
Some of this extra responsibility comes as a result of a major efficiency review, recently undertaken and piloted by Bridges. The review saw significant restructuring of management and the loss of two operational directors, leading to the creation ?of Bridges' temporary role overseeing the day-to-day business of the home.
"As director of estates I ?have always had an influence on operational decisions," says Bridges. "The unique nature of these premises means that somewhere along the line the facilities department is bound to get involved in operational issues. Whether it's with the clinic, the day-to-day animal welfare or just how dogs and cats travel through the home, we in facilities are involved directly."
Managing the main Battersea home is a real challenge. "You wouldn't decide to build a dogs' home in Battersea today," says Bridges. "But here we are, and here we'll always be."
It's a dog's life
The main Battersea site sits on 4.5 acres. It's awkwardly situated, surrounded by three major railway lines, a major road to the south, and, to the north, the River Thames. Half of the site is owned by the charity, with the rest rented from Network Rail. For the Home's' ambitious redevelopment plans to succeed, Bridges is hoping to secure longer-term leases.
At present, Battersea's operations are affected by the structural reinforcement work ?that Network Rail is conducting ?on one of the busiest bridges on ?the rail network. A total of 54 kennels have been temporarily ?lost to the home as the work - encasing the old brick arches ?in concrete - is carried out Network Rail has provided replacement kennel facilities, and when the work finishes later this year, Battersea is hoping to start raising funds to build new kennel blocks.
Among the Home's neighbours is the QVC TV Channel, whose UK headquarters back on to the site. Also next door is a National Grid site that is currently being decommissioned before being developed into both residential and commercial property. Battersea Power Station lies directly to the northeast, and Nine Elms - the biggest redevelopment area in Europe - lies to the immediate east.
As well as plans by QVC and the National Grid to further exploit their land, an extension to the London Underground tube network is also a major issue: the Nine Elms development includes the proposal to build two new stations, Nine Elms and Battersea, which will be linked to a spur of the Northern Line from Kennington. Construction of Battersea Underground station will happen next to, and under, the home's current sales kennel block (where potential owners come to look at potential pets). For the last eighteen months, negotiations have been ongoing about the effect this will have on Battersea's operation.
"Managing this site? People just wouldn't believe it," says Bridges. "When I became director of operations, I took on an interim head of estates to carry out the functions I was going to leave behind. He's an experienced FM, but even he couldn't believe all the complications we have to ?deal with."
And Battersea is not the only site under the Battersea banner. The complexities involved in managing the throughput of animals are the reason for the charity's acquisition over the years of two satellite sites - one in Old Windsor, Berkshire, the other in Brands Hatch, Kent.
Old Windsor was originally a training centre for kennel maids. It was acquired in the 1980s and used as an additional kennel facility. Built on Crown Estate, its 3.5 acres include various types of accommodation, from a large mansion house (where the kennel maids originally lived), new sales kennel blocks, a cattery, a clinic and treatment kennels.
Brands Hatch was originally acquired ten years ago for the temporary homing of animals displaced by work taking place at Battersea. The site was originally used for boarding kennels, its 19 acres needed for accommodation during building. Today, the site is useful for housing dogs suffering from stress, which can be quickly moved away from the many stressful sights, smells and sounds of urban London.
The way that standard FM services are carried out on the main Battersea site is influenced by two issues - the presence of animals and the variety of some peculiar old buildings. Among the hotch-potch is a building designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, designer of Portmeirion Village in Wales. It certainly stands out, positioned plumb centre as you come through the double-gated reception.
Cleaning is split between human and animal needs. Common areas used solely by the staff are cleaned by a local contractor, while Battersea uses its own cleaning and hygiene staff for the pens ?and kennels.
Catering for Battersea's on-site café for staff and visitors is provided by Accent, and manned guarding is deployed on all three sites. At Battersea, the operation of a lost and found department means occasional confrontations with angry people hoping to rehome animals but refused for welfare reasons. It's the reason why the new cattery/entrance block has a double-gated entry system. There are manned guards during the day, one on the gates and one patrolling the facility for the security of staff when visitors ?are on site.
Plant maintenance at Battersea is complicated by the need to take into account a curious mix of new and old buildings. Gradually, Bridges is moving away from a situation where plant issues were ?addressed only when the ?plant itself gave out and a planned preventative maintenance contract is now in place, won earlier this year after a retendering process for all three sites by Hoveair. The contractor is responsible for HVAC maintenance and repairs, although the site's older buildings are dealt with by in-house FM staff. "Rather than put too much investment into something that's not going to be around in the next few years, our own maintenance team keeps the older buildings going while there's a maintenance schedule for the newer buildings with the contractor," says Bridges.
Ultimately, all buildings across the portfolio will come under a PPM schedule, but when that happens it will coincide with Bridges' next major project - revising the animals' entire experience of the Battersea site.
Cool cats and dogs
At present, sales kennels are positioned close to intake blocks, which in turn are close to quarantine and treatment kennels. This means that handlers with potentially dangerous or sick dogs are forced to walk past handlers taking dogs to the public kennels, significantly raising the risk ?of infection. It's far from the ideal situation when looking both to minimise stress for the animals and speed up their rehoming.
"We've got to stop this crossover of animals," says Bridges. "Our plan is that animals should arrive at the back of the facility and go through a journey from assessment of temperament and behaviour, treatment, and then sales." New buildings will be developed for this project as part of the Home's five year plan.
As well as improved day-to-day operation and better infection control, it is hoped that the length of each dog's stay will be shortened. "We're going to reduce the chance of dogs being stressed before being re-homed," says Bridges.
The plan is for this project to ?be complete within five years, ?although like everything at Battersea the schedule is entirely dependent on fund-raising. New initiatives are underway, inspired by the success of the recent campaign to raise funds for the new cattery (see sidebar).
Under Bridges, Battersea has moved from a policy of growing and adapting facilities as the need arose to having five and ten-year development plans. As well as restructuring the way that animals progress through the facility, Bridges has innovative plans for the charity's future. The idea of a visitor centre on the Battersea site is certainly innovative, and would take advantage of the huge Nine Elms development on Battersea's doorstep. "Footfall over the past couple of years has fallen away quite a lot," says Bridges. "We want Battersea to be somewhere people choose to visit. Bear in mind the area is going to become increasingly residential with 15,000 new residents on the Power Station site alone - why not have something which educates people about pet ownership and allow them to see the animals?" Already, Bridges and his team ?have put draft plans forward.
Exciting times, then, for this facilities team. But as I leave, ?I'm reminded that facilities management in a dogs' home can be an emotional experience. "Sometimes it can be a hard place to work," says Bridges. "You see these dogs day in and day out and get used to them being around - and then you find out they haven't made it, for whatever behaviourial or medical issue, and that they've had to be put to sleep. That's difficult because you can't help becoming bonded to these animals in some way."
Fact file: Battersea's new cattery
With the number of cats gifted to the home on the rise, plans to develop a new cattery had been under consideration for the last fifteen years. Meanwhile, cats shared kennel blocks with dogs - not an ideal solution. Howard Bridges found that there was no real excitement for the project among staff, a result of plans that didn't adequately reflect the needs of those who worked with the cats. And so, Bridges re-briefed the architect.
"We gathered all the operations people responsible for cats together and asked for their wish list. What we ended up with was a fully contained building, in which cats would be able to 'sell themselves' to the public (previously, cats were kept in smaller pens).
Before it was knocked down to make way for the new building, the Home's old administration block also served as the home's main entrance and retail shop outlet. "It was a square, sixties brick building which looked at lot like an old signal box," said Bridges. "Visitors couldn't look in to see the site beyond, except via a hatch. It wasn't particularly welcoming."
"We knew we were going to be replacing our main entrance building, and it was clear to me that someone could drive past Battersea and not even realise that the Home existed. I felt it was important for the new building to make a bit of a statement."
In this, the cattery has undoubtedly succeeded. Deliberately highly-specified, Battersea's new cattery wouldn't look out of place on Bond Street. "There probably isn't anything to this standard anywhere else ?in the world", says Bridges.
Construction contractor John Sisk was brought in to build a four-storey building featuring reception and waiting areas, meeting rooms, a unique suite of cat pens, preparation areas and staff rooms. Solar thermal and photovoltaic panels provide hot water, while a ground source borehole array provides heating and ventilation. There are no templates for this kind of building - no rules about how they should be built, or what they should be built of - and the charity has learned on the hoof (paw?). Ventilation for the enclosed building has proved insufficient to deal with the natural odours from cat litter, and the building's HVAC is currently being remodelled to allow for greater airflow. All in all, the new building has been a resounding success. Since being opened by the Duchess in Cornwall in October last year, the new cattery has helped Battersea increase the number of cats it re-homes by a third.
Battersea: 18,210 square metres (196,020 square feet)
Old Windsor: 76,890 (827,640 square feet)
Brands Hatch: 14,569 (156,816 square feet)
Number of staff in the organisation: 317 full time, ?400 volunteers
Number of staff on FM team: Three management and ?a team of six across the three sites
Cleaning: Internal staff for animal areas, ?external contractors for common areas.
Security: BROOKNIGHT SECURITY SERVICES (BATTERSEA & BRANDS HATCH), KNIGHT SECURITY SERVICES (OLD WINDSOR)
M&E Maintenance: Hoveair
CATTERY - Architect: Charles Knowles Architects
CATTERY - Quantity Surveyor: Listers
CATTERY - Structural Engineer: Campbell Reith
CATTERY - Value: £3.9 million