Without question, renovating a building has a fundamental role in the public realm. Engagement plays in the longevity and quality of the construction industry. At the Our Town Hall project in Manchester, the relationship with the community and local craftspeople is the key to its success. Rebecca Stone, Senior Architect in the project elaborates.
The term ‘social value’ has become synonymous with KPIs and tick-boxing. Over the last year, I have come to really appreciate the deeper meanings of ‘social value' and how it is critical that the intention is embedded within the day-to-day of the construction industry, rather than an add-on service. The Manchester Town Hall project has offered the opportunity, contacts, ambassadors and means to allow for the exploration into ‘social value', and we have come to realise how many different forms it can take. It is about having a culture of learning, development and sharing beyond solely charity work.
Upskilling the next generation
The Town Hall project offers an opportunity to upskill the local existing workforce and provide the platform for training opportunities. In some trades, there is the opportunity under the management contracting structure to assist in the sharing of apprentices, ensuring the legacy of passing down the heritage knowledge and skills in the same manner that the consultancy team has begun to promote with our juniors. The ultimate aim is to ensure that some of the heritage skills contractors will have a legacy of future apprentices, and apprentices of these apprentices, who will all play a part in the upkeep of the beautiful heritage sites that the North West has to offer.
Sharing knowledge with universities
Beyond our internal culture, the OTH team have developed strong connections with local charities and universities to share our learnings and development. We have found that the most successful events are those with a mutual benefit to the participants and to the OTH project. For example, we partnered with four teams of Manchester School of Architecture (MSA) students to host their ‘events' assignment. One team chose to host the annual RIBA Northern Soul Design Charette in the building on themes of engagement with the public, giving us some brilliant ideas to explore with the tendering management contractors. Other teams developed beautifully detailed models of the Gothic Revival architectural features or worked with the OTH team to model some of the proposals at entrances or for lifts.
Wider than this, we are looking into how some of our bespoke sustainability objectives and measures can be tested on student projects and through research channels. The team also hosts apprentices who rotate between the disciplines, ensuring that they get a healthy overview of the construction industry.
Our ambition for next year’s MSA Events is to begin linking together some of the beneficiaries of the OTH ‘social value’. We are writing briefs so that the students will engage with local charities and schools. There is a local heritage project with funding problems, so we are hoping to undertake condition surveys and feasibility studies through the team. It can potentially act as a partner project to the Town Hall, which will provide lasting heritage skills contracting opportunities. Beyond the 6 year life of this project, we want to ensure that some of these connections between our partners are maintained. As such, it is important that we begin acting less as hosts, and more as conduits for some of these connections to ensure a more long-lasting legacy.
Our minor involvement with the personal development of future consultants will ensure the survival of our disciplines through future generations. As practitioners, I believe we actually have a duty to ensure we engage with our heirs, pass down our skills, and create overall better architecture. This is particularly important with heritage architecture, as the appreciation and technical skill involved with working with a historic building is not something learned in university.
The Our Town Hall (OTH) project team hosted 12 Year 10s over the space of the week, splitting their time up between the consultants, the council and survey contractor to gain a balanced insight to the industry. On the last day the students gave some fantastic and almost surprising responses to the week. A hand count showed that all the students would be actively considering a future in the construction industry after the week, with only a quarter previously. When questioned about their perception of gender roles in the industry, the responses were: 'women can do anything'. This was finalised with a presentation of certificates from the Lord Mayor and key MCC team members who all gave up their time to be involved in the process.
I have already received requests from two of the students to come back to Purcell for a more detailed architectural work experience next year. Overall, a successful week, that really only took up a few hours of my time, and we now have a format that can be relayed year after year.
To summarise, the most effective forms of ‘social value' are embedded within good quality architectural practice. As practitioners, we have a duty to provide these mentoring opportunities for our future architects, to ensure the quality of our pipeline and the survival of our discipline.
As architects, or etymologically speaking ‘master builders’, it is key that we ensure our projects have the most collaborative environment, promoting respect for our partnering disciplines, with the added bonus that this is often the most creative environment and provides learning opportunities. As ambassadors for the heritage industry, we provide an important conduit to help promote the legacy of heritage skills.
I will finish by quoting William Morris in the SPAB Manifesto – “protect our ancient buildings and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us”. The survival of our heritage primarily relies upon the survival of our heritage skills. Whether those skills lie within design, contracting or craftsmanship, we need to ensure part of our practice includes the provision for passing on a legacy of skills for the next generation.