In late-2019, Sykes secured two Building Improvement Programme (BIP) projects for iQ Student Accommodation, focussing on fire prevention works to their Tufnell House and Costume Store halls of residence.

The £700k project at Tufnell House included fire stopping, repairs and replacements of fire doors and general fire precaution works to this occupied hall of residence in the Tufnell Park area. The project team comprised a Site Manager and up to 10 operatives at points.

The £500k project at Costume Store in North Acton ran concurrently and also included fire stopping, repairs and replacements of fire doors. This hall of residence is located on the site that once housed the BBC’s costume collection.

Both projects were scheduled to run from December 2019 – July 2020. Of course, in March 2020, all works were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused all works to end temporarily. Both sites were closed at 5pm on Monday 23rd March 2020. The site containers were locked shut and the site compounds secured for 7 weeks. Both sites were reopened on Monday 11th May 2020 for a soft start, implementing health and safety measures ready for work to recommence on Monday 18th May 2020.

The closure and the new working restrictions and guidance was unprecedented and meant that we had to re-assess all project methodology and logistics plans. As an example, toolbox talks and inductions had to be undertaken externally of the site office within the site compound, with designated marked standing points for workers to maintain 2 metre social distancing.

Many challenges come with working in occupied halls of residence including managing access to bedrooms and minimising disruption to tenants. Close communication with the on-site building management team was essential. The Office Manager would give us updated schedules of occupied rooms every 3 days so that we could work in multiple locations and minimise disruption. Works were programmed to avoid any noisy works before 10am.

Where a door set needed to be changed completely, we would agree a contents list of room possessions and sign-off on this. All removed doors / door sets had to be back on the same day.

Where we came across risers or stairwells with poor vacuum, we installed intumescent airflow grills and fire block. A lesson passed on to the client, was to educate them on not wedging open doors, particularly kitchens as this creates both a fire hazard and causes door closers to leak.

Following the successful completion of these projects, Sykes were approached again by iQ estates and have since secured five further contracts for their Bankside, Aldgate, Bloomsbury, Shoreditch, and Highbury residences. These works are to carry out full fire door assessment, produce defect reports and complete remedial works, totalling approximately £2.5m.