For local boy and University of Wolverhampton graduate, Liam, the chance to play a part in his former university’s future is taking him on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Wolverhampton. A city with a rich industrial heritage, and home of Wolverhampton Wanderers – a football club that binds its people together.
For Liam, it’s home. Having grown up in the Black Country, he has a strong connection with the area, studying Construction Management at the University of Wolverhampton and starting his own family in the shadow of Molineux Stadium. It’s a story that has seen Liam come full circle and return to his old university stomping ground, as part of the ISG team who firstly transformed a derelict brewery into the University of Wolverhampton’s brand-new School of Architecture and the Built Environment (SoABE), followed by the construction of the new National Brownfield Institute (NBI).
The SoABE project, which pays homage to the building’s beer-brewing history and the industrial architecture that surrounds it, owes much to Liam’s local connections. With his links to the city and its people, Liam is passionate about laying the groundwork for future generations of constructors – and there’s no place he’d rather be.
Revisiting your past is not something that many people get the chance to do. What will have changed? And what will live up to fond memories of years gone by?
The transformation of a derelict brewery building offered Liam Davies, project director at ISG, the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. No, he didn’t moonlight as a brewer – rather, he has strong links to the university and Wolverhampton as a whole.
As a local boy, who studied Construction Management at the university, Liam was passionate about creating a facility for future generations of constructors. One of them may even be his eldest son, now 13 years old, he says. “I have worked on projects all around the world," says Liam. "It took me nearly 25 years to come full circle, to be back in Wolverhampton, doing a job that means the most to me.”
Liam joined ISG as a senior project manager to tender for the SoABE project, a scheme which saw the restoration and repurposing of a Grade I listed brewery building along with the construction of a new three-storey building.
Beyond his commitment and motivation, Liam brought with him some very practical advantages. Having worked on the renovation of the Grade I listed Royal Hospital in the city prior to this project, he had a good handle on risk and, vitally, good relationships with local specialists.
Liam recalls a visit to site when ISG was considering bidding. “We drove down Grimstone Street, had a look at the building and a talk about it. I said: ‘We don't need to be afraid of it if we use the right people’.” ISG was awarded the contract under the Pagabo framework and started work in October 2018.
SoABE is now home to leading state-of-the-art learning facilities that will shape the next generation of industry leaders while maintaining elements of its heritage, such as the restored iconic brewery clock tower. This detailed and creative approach is what makes this project an example for future schemes.
Completed to rave reviews, the project was named by Pagabo as its ‘best project above £15m’. It went on to receive numerous industry accolades including the ultimate client endorsement when Liam was nominated by the University of Wolverhampton for a ‘Construction Manager of the Year’ award.
Liam added: “There are some projects that hold a special place in your heart, for me SoABE is the culmination of over 25 years of personal learning. To be able to create a home for the next generation of construction talent in the Midlands is a privilege and one that I will carry with me for the rest of my career. The blend of new and modern has been perfectly balanced and is a great teaching example for students learning how to integrate buildings into the environment they inhabit.”
After the completion of SoABE, the question was, what’s next? Talks started on further development on the Springfield Campus, and ISG was awarded the contract to construct the National Brownfield Institute or NBI, again through the Pagabo framework.
The £17.5 million research centre received planning approval in December 2020, with Liam starting work on his second project for the University in April 2021 (he just didn’t want to leave!).
The NBI is a world-class institute that will help to secure Wolverhampton's position as a leader internationally in sustainable construction, circular economy and brownfield development. It will also deliver new skills, jobs and opportunities for local people in the city, hit hard by the pandemic.
The NBI is now also following SoABE’s lead, recently scooping the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) West Midlands Project of the Year accolade.
With the world-class institute now in full use, what’s next for Liam?
“NBI was a great project to be involved with and its direct award to ISG and the existing SoABE team was great validation for the mammoth effort associated with the delivery of the SoABE building. Personally, I thought the whole process was the perfect advert for what the construction industry has promoted over many years…’partnership’. The completed NBI building highlights the benefits of working in partnership utilising existing relationships as a basis for a delivery period built on trust.”