Delivering personal and professional projects for the NHS

Paul Chandler - Executive Managing Director of Wates Construction
Paul Chandler Executive Managing Director, Wates Construction
Paul Chandler, Group MD, Wates Construction Group
Home Insights Delivering personal and professional projects for the NHS

Delivering personal and professional projects for the NHS

Construction can often be an incredibly hard-nosed business. It’s highly contractual, often complex and always competitive and sometimes not for the faint-hearted.

However, it is these challenges that also make it so rewarding.

In nearly 40 years in construction, I have had the privilege to be involved in countless projects that have given me a huge amount of professional pride and the motivation to face the challenges that the next project may bring.

But in the last few months Wates has been involved in a project that has meant so much more to me than all of those that came before.

Family bereavement

On January 17th this year, my family’s lives were turned upside down when my dad had a terrible fall, suffering grievous injuries including a broken neck and skull fractures.

He was rushed to St Bart’s Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, 20 minutes from where he lived with my mum in Hackney, and there he remained until he sadly passed away on February 29.

My dad was 81 and lived a fabulous life but of course, while we will always feel he went too soon, we also take some comfort from the love and care that was shown by the staff at St Bart’s in those last six weeks of his life.

As a nation we have rightly celebrated the work of the NHS and its army of dedicated workers in recent months and, from a personal perspective, the kindness and compassion that was shown to my dad and also my mum during those difficult weeks is something that I will never forget.

Emergency project

Now if my dad was around today he would have said it’s funny how things turn out as three days after we laid him to rest, I received a phone call from Steff Battle, Wates’ head of pre-construction, saying that we had received an inquiry about whether we could deliver a 170+ bed intensive care ward in record time for St Bart’s.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that my response was that we needed to do whatever it takes to make this happen.

Within two days the project was up and running a team of sub-contractors, suppliers and consultants were assembled and we went from Stage 3 to working drawings in a matter of days rather than months.

I received updates every day on the progress of the project not least so I could keep my mum up to date and the progress that was made every week was simply incredible. The fact that we had more than 300 people working on the job in a safe and controlled manner, managing the constraints of working within a busy working hospital, makes this project all the more remarkable.

In the end the project was delivered in just 30 days thanks to the huge commitment and professionalism of everybody involved, from the Wates team, our suppliers, contractors and consultants to everyone at the hospital who went the extra mile to make this project possible.

Success through working differently

It was a project that really demonstrated what can be achieved in our industry if we approach a project in a slightly different way. Teamwork was clearly hugely important but there was also trust between all the partners to do the right thing and a transparency and honesty that meant that everyone knew what they had to deliver but more importantly, they were also able to say what they couldn’t.

As I said earlier in this piece, construction can be a tough environment but life equally so and sometimes the two worlds collide and we all have to find our own way to navigate a path through to the other side.

Being involved in this project and being able to be open about its importance to me has certainly provided some comfort to my family and I during these difficult months.

It is a well-known fact, although not well understood, that we have challenges with mental health in the construction industry with suicides three times the UK rate for men something that we are focusing on as a business during Men’s Health Week.

My hope is that my recent experience may help colleagues and peers across the industry realise that sometimes there are things that are more important than work and it’s ok to talk about them.