Associate from Purcell’s Northern region, Rebecca Stone, reflects on the importance of developing opportunities for local communities across Purcell projects through the lens of the “Our Town Hall” project.

Ensuring that we add social value to our projects is a vital element of Purcell’s work. Developing opportunities for local people is at the forefront of the social value of our projects; from enabling communities to learn about a building’s history through to developing work experience for jobseekers. To understand social value is to acknowledge the importance of how the social impact of a project can be maximised, and to ensure that the continued sustainability of a building benefits the people that use it, employees that work within it, and the surrounding area.

For all the buildings on which Purcell works, we promote the history and significance of those buildings to our clients, the public, the construction workforce, end users, local schools, and universities. We support and stimulate change, not only through the completed project, but throughout the duration of the design and construction periods. We involve the often-diverse communities for whom the project serves, developing broad educational programmes which inform those communities of their architectural heritage.

Architectural training contributes significantly to social value. Our training programme teaches our up-and-coming architects, emphasising the development of building construction and its changing craft techniques over time which complements design-focused architectural schools. We also want to support those schools by providing additional opportunities for Part 1 and 2 students, broadening their education by introducing aspects of Purcell’s work that students may not easily encounter within the schools in which they are studying.

This involves providing work placements, supporting the RIBA mentoring Scheme and which may include tours of our construction sites or more in-depth study of the philosophy which lies behind our work. Our staff also work as tutors and support research projects. I am a strong supporter of advocating alternative ways of studying architecture, such as apprenticeship schemes and part-time learning.

The Our Town Hall (OTH) project, which focuses on the wholesale refurbishment of the Grade 1 Listed Manchester Town Hall, employs several apprentices, and we support many students while they undertake courses and part-time work, from both a financial and mentoring perspective. As Design and Conservation Architects, we need to ensure the longevity of our projects while supporting the legacy of local trades.

The training of trade skills requires a great deal of work and experience, and it is expensive because craftsmanship can only be learnt through practice. For example, after students have undertaken apprenticeships, it is important to find employment opportunities for them, ideally in paid employment on the project on which they learned their skills.

During lockdown, our team has moved our social value activities online. From submitting short videos describing their job roles in the construction industry, through to sharing heritage webinars with the wider OTH team to upskill everyone involved. Throughout the project there have been many projects to support community engagement during this time, for example, Mace, OTH project managers are organising a sponsored walk in Yorkshire, as this can be achieved while social distancing.

Contractors working on OTH are also contributing significantly. We work closely with them during both procurement and construction stages to develop schemes that create a range of opportunities for the communities surrounding the project. Developing local links with universities, charities, and trades — throughout the project and after — is important because ultimately, these are the links that will outlive our part in the project.

Manchester City Council are also making a very positive impact on the communities surrounding the project through joint ventures with their OTH Project procurement partners. Their funding for OTH and the approach they have adopted towards social value, equates to a very significant social, economic and environmental contribution for the residents of Manchester. Approximately 60% of the people working on the project are based in Manchester, while 80% are based in Greater Manchester.

Throughout the project, everything is kept as local as possible; from the workforce and craftspeople undertaking the work, through to the materials used in the refurbishment of OTH. Thinking locally, from supply chains to materials and methods of construction, to significantly reducing the carbon footprint of those buildings on which we work, lies at the heart of many of our projects at Purcell.

The survival of our heritage relies largely on the survival of our heritage skills. William Morris once declared “protect our ancient buildings and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us”. The skills of the wider OTH project team and the willingness to share those skills with a wide range of local communities, will ensure the legacy of OTH will last long after the Town Hall once again serves the people of Manchester.