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Aerial view of the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy

Blog: Construction for the community – Great Yarmouth Charter Academy

How can a construction company help a school that is working hard to become the first choice for parents and students in its area?

This was the challenge that Morgan Sindall Construction took after winning the contract to redevelop Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. As part of this blog, we spoke to Matt Bidewell, project manager for the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy project and Iain Mackintosh, Executive Principal of the academy.

The reputation of the school was low,” says Executive Principal Iain Mackintosh. “We weren't getting lots of children coming, but we had quite a radical approach to it and looked at the way we can support children to be part of this learning community.”

The answer was simple: by working closely with its management, pupils and community to give them school buildings that they can all be proud of. The implementation, however, was not easy and required a collaborative effort to help realise the school’s ambition.

Supporting a new strategy

As part of its strategy, the Academy specialises in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Morgan Sindall Construction’s remit was to provide new buildings and remodel existing buildings to support this. “Our previous rooms were in the oldest part of the school, so they certainly weren't quite up to spec,” Iain explains.

“What we've got now are purpose-built labs, which will allow us to do things we never could before. It will allow us to offer a sixth form for the children of Great Yarmouth. That's really important. They have those opportunities to stay on in a school that they love and to be able to do the subjects they excel at.”

Key to getting a build like this right is making sure we know exactly what the end user and the local community need from the project.

Morgan Sindall Construction senior project manager Matthew Bidewell explains: “Really understanding the client’s drivers and what will make the journey good for them is what we try to do. And not just from the concept stage, when we’re looking at design, but in the operational stage.

We start with customer expectation questionnaires, so we can go through exactly what we believe the drivers are. We also sit down with them and see what they want from us, what’s going to make this experience different. We know they want it on time, on budget and safe, but we also want to know is what is going to really make the difference for them.”
Image of a science laboratory at the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy

Delivering for the community

Once the user’s needs are established, the team also works hard to deliver for the community. Not just in providing a facility that fits the bill, but making sure that the work has as little impact on the local area as possible.

“We did letter drops to all the areas and we posted out some letters for the kids to take home, to let their parents know what’s going on,” says Matt. “We welcomed feedback. We had an open-door policy so if anyone wanted to come and see us, we were always approachable and there for any questions they had.”

Matt explains that the last thing you want is to be in a situation where the community isn’t on board with the process. “Making sure that the visuals of the school and the site were maintained, making sure there is no debris or mud on the road, making it obvious to the surrounding businesses and people that we’re there to make a difference for the kids of the area. This makes the whole process easier and support that little bit stronger.”

Aerial view showing the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy in the context of the town

Communication the key

The communication has been fabulous all the way through,” says Iain. “Every time I've gone to a meeting, I felt there's a purpose to it. It's allowed me to keep doing my job and, hopefully, it’s allowed the people that are working on site to get on with theirs. The way I can teach children, I was completely consulted on, but I never felt that I couldn't come and ask as well, and I think that was really important. If I wanted to ask about something, there's always someone on the end of the phone. It was just great.”
We pride ourselves on the journey we give our clients,” says Matt. “We ask for regular feedback, we care how the site looks and we get students to come around on site. We had events where we took them on site so they could see how their classroom were built. They actually see the foundations in the ground and what holds the building up.”

Making life even more difficult for the team was the pandemic. “We went from 50 on site to six overnight when the first lockdown came in, but we never closed the doors,” explains Matt. “We kept everyone safe but kept the site going, and handed the project over on time.”

Iain says that the effect of the new building on the children was fantastic: “It was kind of jaws hitting the floor en masse. As the children came in for the first time and saw the facilities, they really didn't know what to say. They were just so happy to be coming into an environment that was set up specifically for them.”