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How there is always a Dave to save the day…

Let’s start this story, one November in London. You can probably imagine rain, wind and regular autumn fun.

I was managing a project for the daughter of a past client. It was a typical penthouse refurbishment. All very standard apart from the window replacements. As you can probably imagine the penthouse is usually located at the top of the building. This one was a split level, meaning it was the top two floors. It had a massive terrace around the upper floor but there was no access to the windows on the lower level as these were just part of the block elevation. The flat block itself was 9 storeys. So how do you go about replacing windows at such height? You obviously need a scaffold. If you think this all sounds easy so far let me just throw in that the location was central London, within a conservation area and the block was managed by one of the strictest managing agents I have ever come across (very well known in the area). And as if that wasn’t enough the building is partially cladded with asbestos panels 🙄

You might think - why do I care about all of this? The contractor should worry.

Well. We, as in construction people, all know how big of a question mark there is in between all of these lines. Whose responsibility is it? It’s something that can be dealt with in a day or in a month. It can be a streamlined operation or an absolute disaster. And at the end of the day it’s down to me to communicate to the client the level of risk of things going wrong.

So the replacing of the windows was planned for a random Tuesday. All good and well apart from the fact that replacing windows in a rain and wind up to 70 m/h is not really the best idea. As you can imagine, the asbestos people, the windows people, the builders and me all turned up at 8:30am to agree on a plan of action. We all got completely drenched 🙄 everything got cancelled and moved to the following week.

Starting again on a sunny Thursday morning everyone turned up. I had learned from the previous experience and decided to arrive a bit later once the whole sniffing around was done so I could only be told what was going to happen. You can imagine my face when I got out of the train to be greeted by 20 missed calls and messages 🙈 anyway. Basically The asbestos company had shut down the whole operation saying there was asbestos present that needed testing and sealing. Shocking news. We knew. The task was to have it removed to allow for the windows to be removed. But as is often the case, some companies are too big to actually allow communication between the people working there. So the testing department put the surveying department on hold and they put the removal department on hold. Essentially when I got there an hour after everybody else, 20 people were standing around on site scratching their heads about what to do next. The asbestos people had shut the site down until they got sample results back and said that after a period of 2 weeks they might be able to do something.

As a Project Manager working on the clients side, it shouldn’t be any of my business. I should be asking questions and waiting for answers. But if we have ever met me before you probably know that this isn’t something I’m capable of doing. I’m far too impatient for that.

So. When I started my career in construction I met someone named Dave who was starting an asbestos company. I had used his services regularly over the years. I even recommended him on a job that ended up being a £400k worth of asbestos removal so I guess it’s safe to say that he owed me a favour. But I couldn’t find his number for the life of me. We hadn’t spoken for a couple of years, I changed jobs, I changed phones and it just happened to be that I could find his direct mobile number. I called the office. It turned out that his company has grown to quite a size over the years and it wasn’t as easy to get through to him. However, when the secretary told him who I was, he called back straight away.

I explained the issue and the stand still. Dave of course asked for all the facts and photos. His team visited the site the next day to have a look at what could be done and came up with a solution. Apparently there is a bit of a grey area on the Asbestos regulations allowing for a time limited work on small tasks in an emergency for maintenance purposes (that was the case). So using this as a legal background they removed the windows and got the new windows installed in 3 days.

The contractor could carry on with the work making good and decorating. So that the client could make it back to her flat before Christmas.

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