Darren McKeon is an operations manager within our Specialist Services business and has a particular interest in cladding. With over 30 years’ experience working in construction, Darren explains how communication, collaboration and engagement with residents is imperative to all the projects he works on.
“I’ve worked in construction for over 30 years and in recent years I’ve developed a special interest in cladding, this is largely as a result of delivering a number of significant projects for Kier. Some people might think that cladding projects are a case of replacing one system with another, but they are so much more complex and challenging that, and I continue to learn and improve my skills in order to deliver the very best schemes.
Kier is viewed as leaders in recladding projects; we’ve been shortlisted for ‘contractor of the year’ at the prestigious UK Housing Awards and we also won ‘project of the year’ at the Kier Annual Awards, this was a very proud moment for our work to be chosen out of hundreds delivered that year. I’m incredibly proud of the internal and external recognition which we’ve achieved, which is testament to the strong team that we’ve built.
Our team is made up of a blend of experts and strong technical skills are essential. There are many different types of cladding systems and the right one will depend on the building’s superstructure, which with our knowledge of construction practices and materials we can help clients to understand. Each type of cladding system has very specific installation requirements and our teams are trained to follow these to the letter to ensure the safety of the system is not compromised during fitting. We also help to specify and implement any fire stopping that may be required underneath the cladding, as a cladding system alone will not prevent a fire from spreading; the whole building needs to be safe.
Throughout the project, we carry out rigorous inspections to provide further assurances and once signed off, we hand over full documentation of all works carried out – this assists in ‘futureproofing’ a building as clients know exactly what has been done and what works may be required at a later date. This may sound like an obvious thing to do but unfortunately many existing buildings do not have adequate documentation, which is a real hindrance to safety - we’re proud to be helping to address this issue which was a recommendation in the Building Safer Futures consultation. There’s a real sense that we’re helping to shape and drive policy while we’re on site.
As well as our technical expertise, another reason for our success is our approach to communicating with residents – for us, this is a priority and should not treated as an add-on. Residential cladding projects are live environments, they are people’s homes. Many of the residents I’ve met on site are anxious about their safety and sometimes about the value of their homes and the economic impact. It is our duty to engage, inform and reassure during this time.
We have a ‘whole team’ approach when communicating with residents. It is not just up to the resident liaison officer, but all of us to make sure we are taking the time to understand how they are feeling. We engage before, during and after works so they always know what we were doing and how they can reach us. In addition, we have an open-door policy for the site office whereby residents can come to us and talk about the works being carried out. We also made sure we manage expectations – around noise, deliveries and more – we have to be sensitive and mindful at all times of the impact of our work on residents.
People skills don’t just relate to residents when it comes to cladding projects – you need to be able to communicate and collaborate with all stakeholders. There’s an expectation that the industry gets on with making buildings safe now, but there are still questions over regulations and materials. Things are changing literally as projects are on site. But with so much at stake, we must get these projects right and so collaboration is key.
Looking ahead, we’ve had Hackitt and we’re now awaiting the outcome of the Grenfell inquiry, but we’re already collaborating with clients to deliver these projects swiftly, safely and in a COVID-secure way. It’s not just on site either – Kier was one of the first members of the Early Adopters, so we’re helping to drive change from all angles.
We’ll be well placed to deliver for our clients because we have a fantastic team, with a mix of technical expertise and people skills. I am proud to be a part of a business that has such pride, passion and precision for this work and is truly making a difference to helping people being – and feeling – safer in their homes.”