New consortium launched to pioneer greater use of offsite construction for primary schools

March 12th 2019

A new consortium has been launched to transform the way primary schools are designed and built. This is managed by construction consultants Blacc and is funded by Innovate UK, the public body established to drive productivity and economic growth through innovation.

The other partners in the Seismic consortium are technology-led design practice Bryden Wood, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), and two of the UK’s leading offsite specialists, Elliott and The McAvoy Group.

Around 100 new and replacement primary schools are needed every year in the UK at a cost of £5bn. This level of demand far exceeds the capacity currently available in the construction industry. The challenge is compounded by the general inefficiency of the construction sector compared to UK manufacturing. Every primary school construction project has a bespoke design, is procured individually and is delivered by a fragmented supply chain. This process leads to varying levels of quality, low productivity and increased risk of time and budget overruns.

The new consortium has been established to carry out extensive research and development to engineer a range of standardised offsite solutions which will radically increase productivity and efficiency, drive down costs and reduce lead times in the delivery of exemplary primary schools.

Commenting on the partnership’s vision, Richard Crosby, Director of Blacc, said “By applying greater use of standardisation, our aim is to develop a series of components to enable multiple offsite specialists to achieve unprecedented economies of scale and efficiency in manufacturing. This will bring a higher degree of stability, predictability and transparency to the procurement process – to the benefit of both the client and the supply chain. It represents a window into a brave new world for UK construction.”

One of the solutions currently in development is the creation of a pioneering digital tool to accelerate the initial design phase for new primary schools. This user-friendly web-based app, which can be used by teaching professionals, will configure a primary school building on a specific site in line with DfE requirements, and using a standardised offsite solution to optimise efficiency. This will significantly reduce the time and cost of the initial feasibility and design phase and will facilitate the input of stakeholders.

“By digitising the process of designing a primary school, we believe we can deliver significant reductions in lead times and build costs whilst accommodating individual design requirements”, said Jami Cresser-Brown, Director of Bryden Wood. “With the use of a digital tool, more time can actually be spent on the bespoke elements of the design of each school.”

The Seismic project will also look at how standardised module sizes and steel-framed offsite solutions can be developed, costed and manufactured to achieve greater economies of scale and cost efficiencies for the construction of new primary schools.

Susan Hone-Brookes, Chief Engineer for Construction and Infrastructure at the MTC said, “This project will not only standardise different, market-leading offsite solutions for primary school construction, but it will act as a trailblazer to demonstrate the very latest offsite manufacturing technologies.”

David Clark, Head of Manufacturing and Innovation at The McAvoy Group, said, “This is a truly unique partnership of visionary organisations who are demonstrating the highest level of collaboration, trust and transparency. It is fantastic to be a part of such a ground-breaking project which we think will be a catalyst for revolutionising not just school design, procurement and delivery but the wider construction industry. There is also huge potential to take the best of UK manufacturing and apply that to offsite construction to realise even greater cost and programme efficiencies – with no compromise on design – to the benefit of the communities we serve.”

James Cowell, Technical Director of Elliott, said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to take offsite to the next level whilst developing even more innovative solutions to meet the rising demand for primary school places. There are clear productivity issues across construction and offsite manufacture is a proven method of addressing that, as well as issues such as cost control, skills shortages, sub-standard quality and long lead times. There is also the potential going forward to explore the standardisation of other design elements of a building, such as M&E, and how we could remove the need for many of the costly and time-intensive processes traditionally carried out on site.” 

The Project Partners

Through project leadership and construction management, Blacc seeks to be the agent for change in a rapidly-changing construction landscape. Project leadership allows Blacc to harness the depth of experience of its leadership team to provide clients with strategic project and programme management. Construction management – putting the client at the heart of a project through paying contractors directly, releases funds more readily to flow through the supply chain. This approach, which removes the main contractor, is key to changing the way of thinking in the industry. The market is demanding change, and Blacc is helping to achieve this through thought leadership, drawing inspiration from other sectors and challenging enshrined practices and thinking.

Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
The MTC was established to provide innovative manufacturing processes and technologies in an agile environment in partnership with industry, academia and other institutions. The MTC houses some of the most advanced manufacturing equipment in the world, creating a high-quality environment for the development and demonstration of new technologies on an industrial scale. This creates a unique opportunity for manufacturers to develop new and innovative processes and technologies.

Bryden Wood
Bryden Wood is a technology-led design company made up of architects, analysts, software coders, engineers and industrial designers. Founded in 1995, it is the only organisation in its sector to bring together such a broad range of specialisms with a single purpose – to transform the global construction industry. Its vision is to close the gap between construction and manufacturing, and to create a highly productive, digitally-led industry. Bryden Wood is a UK leader in offsite and advanced construction techniques, and, in 2018, won a Queen's Award for Innovation.

Elliott is a market leader in modular space and portable buildings with a wide range of products and services. It has been providing temporary and permanent building solutions to all market sectors including education, health, industry, commerce, construction, infrastructure, petrochemical, utilities, retail and events for over 55 years. Elliott provides full turnkey building solutions for customers to either hire or buy and has branches located throughout the UK. Its permanent building solutions meet all current and relevant building standards, codes of practice and legislative regulations, delivering buildings with a 60-year design life.

The McAvoy Group
The McAvoy Group is an independent, family-owned business and an established principal contractor. It has been providing bespoke offsite solutions and interim modular buildings for almost 50 years. McAvoy delivers fast-track construction projects of the highest quality and in up to half the time for the health, education, residential, commercial and infrastructure sectors, with less impact on the environment and greater assurance of completion on time and on budget. The Group is also leading the industry in its award-winning application of the latest digital technologies to offsite construction.