Pavel and Emelia take the plunge every school holiday as part of Manchester City Council’s ‘Swim for All’ initiative.
You remember the feeling – the run, the jump and the splash as big as you can make it. Eyes open or tight shut; there’s nothing quite like that freedom…
Pavel and Emelia from Hulme take the plunge every school holiday as part of Manchester City Council’s ‘Swim for All’ initiative. Anyone under 17, no matter who they are or where they’re from, can swim for free as part of the council’s investment in an active and healthy lifestyle for the city.
For them, it all started when Moss Side Leisure Centre reopened its doors in 2018. It was the result of a year-long, £8m refurbishment by ISG, awarded through the North West Construction Hub framework. We meet ISG framework director, Neil Walker, to talk about the state-of-the-art facility and the story behind the splash.
“The building was 50 years old and in desperate need of refurbishment, so it was the perfect opportunity to modernise. For us, it wasn’t just the chance to provide a superb, cost-effective facility – it was making it sustainable and inclusive for everyone in the local community, and creating a social impact before the doors had opened.”
It was easier said than done, particularly considering the constraints the team was under. The adjoining library was to remain up and running during the works, and ensuring value for money for the people of Manchester was always front of mind. Savings made during the refurbishment would go some way to help keep swimming free for Pavel and Emelia.
“It’s a more creative task than you might expect,” says Neil. “I call it value management not value engineering. It’s as much about investing where it matters, as it is about finding efficiencies.”
Alongside Manchester City Council, Neil and the team at ISG worked to save Manchester £800,000, with £50,000 coming from simply reusing the existing stainless-steel drainage for the pool rather than buying new.
In other areas, however, investments were made to hold true to Manchester City Council’s vision for a sustainable centre that was open to all…
“Some really smart design work went into the roof-overlay system, which among countless other innovations, made the building almost 40% more energy efficient – a key objective of the project.
“Another thing I’m proud of is our access partnership with the ‘Changing Places’ campaign. In fact, all our designs were informed by a Disability Discrimination Act survey to improve accessibility around the centre. The PoolPod swimming pool lift was another fantastic addition to the facility, and means everyone can enjoy the new centre to the fullest,” says Neil.
These achievements weren’t without bumps along the way. Early in the works, the team discovered higher levels of asbestos than anticipated, and half of the rendering in the pool hall needed to be replaced. According to Tim Laycock, major projects lead at Manchester City Council, it’s how you deal with it that counts: “Refurbishment projects are often challenging. The discovery of a problem is the easy bit, but it is by working together to resolve it in a way that provides best value for the city that is hard. This is where ISG proved themselves to be a key member of the team.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Neil: “I’m not going to say it wasn’t hair-raising. We uncovered significant amounts of hidden asbestos, but by resequencing the works and deploying a scaffold system to allow high and low-level works to progress simultaneously, the full impact was mitigated – it’s all part of the job!”
Perhaps even more impressive was the team’s intense focus on social impact despite these challenges. ISG gave local young people a taste of modern construction through its ‘World of Work Experience’ programme and the industry-wide ‘Open Doors’ initiative. The team built a polytunnel with the Hulme Community Garden Centre and supply chain partner, Bemus. They donated equipment, materials and time to Forever Manchester and Wood Street Mission, and helped raise £1.2m for the ‘We Love MCR’ charity through the ‘Bee in the City’ initiative. Unsurprisingly, it’s what Neil speaks most passionately about…
“For me, it’s all about legacy and what we leave behind. We’ve built something for the community in Moss Side – to become fitter and healthier, to save money that can be reinvested back into Manchester, and to offer career opportunities for those who have been held back,” says Neil.
“We’re proud of our social impact in the North West because it doesn’t just happen by accident. We plan for social value from the outset of every project and it’s fundamental within our culture. It’s a deliverable like any other. It’s part of who we are and what we do.”