CMYA Finalist

Employer: Willmott Dixon Construction

Project: Heathfield Academy, Croydon

A driven decision-maker, Neil Locke showed great attention to detail and adaptability to change on this scheme, which had lost its original main contractor.

Pulled into this scheme for a three-storey school after the client dismissed the previous main contractor in the middle of preconstruction, Neil Locke encountered a project in delay and requiring a redesign to come within a shrunken budget. What’s more, he himself had little experience as a preconstruction lead.

Neil worked astonishingly hard to make sure everything was as watertight and well planned as possible to keep the programme on track. At this point, with every supply chain package project-critical, he turned what was an apparent weakness into a strength. He promoted a one-team collaborative culture to win supply chain buy-in to a revised programme from the supply chain by including all of them in workshops to look together at how to deliver the scheme and to encourage their engagement with it.

The workshops ensured everyone knew each other’s scope and what needed to be done. So successful was he in gaining the personal commitment he wanted that Willmott Dixon subsequently interviewed the entire supply chain to find out why they were so engaged with the project and what made it so enjoyable; the findings are now being used on other jobs.

Key efficiencies Neil identified and implemented included changing the roof-level buildup from screed and liquid to a tapered insulation scheme with single ply. He also appointed a single supply chain partner to manage the entire envelope works alongside a window installer, which minimised risk and interface difficulties.

Another crucial initiative was his championing of brick slip panels (installed from aerial platforms) rather than traditional brickwork to avoid having to erect scaffold along the busy main road that bordered the site. Although a more expensive product, its programme and logistics benefits hit the project spot. The build was finished in just 22 weeks from the completion of the reinforced concrete frame, allowing defect-free handover four weeks early to the client, which has awarded Willmott Dixon a further £40m worth of work for another school and a leisure centre as a result, with Neil currently overseeing both.

Neil put considerable effort into establishing trust and confidence with a client badly let down by the former contractor, and a client team that had lost faith. For example, even though the programme was tight and there was no contractual requirement for a sample room, he created a fully furnished one very early on, giving the client and the school a firm idea of what to expect, and the site team of what to deliver.