Building on Leeds Beckett University partnership



Leeds Beckett University has a 190-year history of education, with almost 3,000 staff and more than 28,000 students from almost 100 countries around the world.

It contributes an estimated £500 million to the economy every year and began with the founding of the Leeds Mechanics Institute in 1824.

Over recent years, it has completely refurbished four floors of its Sheila Silver Library, with three completed by Sewell Construction.

The first phase of the work saw a £1.5 million reconfiguration and refurbishment of the second floor of the library as part of the university’s ongoing upgrade and maintenance programme of its city centre campus.

The third floor was then refurbished in a separate £1.4 million phase, followed by the third project, which included refurbishing the reception area of the library and creating a new layout.

The main challenge of all three projects was working in a live environment and phasing work, as the library is open 24/7 to allow students to study, read, research and access the facilities at any time of the day, and disruption to staff and students needed to be kept to a minimum.

Various areas also needed to remain operational to ensure minimal downtime.

Sewell was appointed to carry out the projects following a competitive tender and interview process. The team was also chosen to complete the second and third projects based on the ongoing positive relationship with the university, quality, value for money and the guarantee of delivering on promises.

Project development:

Before work began on all three projects, the programme needed to be carefully planned out to coincide with university policies and permit systems.

Daily coordination between Sewell Construction, the university and user groups within the library was also planned to keep them up to date with the general programme and any changes which needed to happen.

The Sewell Construction team phased the work in advance, with detailed planning, robust programming and high levels of quality communication approached in a proactive manner.

As the team needed to work in a busy live environment, work was planned to take place during normal working, as well as some out of hours working to ensure exam periods were not disrupted.

The first project was completed during the university’s exam period, which meant some of the demolition work was scheduled to take place between 2am and 7am to limit disruption, noise and dust.

The same delivery team was used in all three projects to ensure continuity and consistency for the client and because the chosen supply chain had prior knowledge of the building and its layout.

Various areas were segregated with temporary hoardings and deliveries were planned around existing campus commitments, while existing facilities and services were able to operate as usual.

Health and safety was a key consideration before and during all three projects. Site inductions took place for the Sewell Construction team and the supply chain, with site rules and expectations reinforced from the outset to ensure a single team approach.

The Sewell Facilities Management team also provided valuable input during the second project to advise on materials for the best lifecycle and longevity outcome. This ensured an even more robust and seamless approach for the client, with a clear focus on quality and value for money.


Key milestones in all three projects included:

  • Stripping out the existing facilities in phases and completing demolition work
  • New doors and partitions
  • New mechanical and electrical installations
  • Installing a new reception counter
  • Decoration work throughout
  • Floor finishes
  • Wall panelling
  • Installing ICT and library facilities
  • Creating meeting rooms and breakout spaces as part of the modernisation process

Noisy work, such as cutting out the existing floor for new data points, was coordinated and completed before usual working hours began to reduce disruption during times of high footfall and exam periods.

The supply chain was selected for various reasons, including health and safety accreditation, technical expertise, relevant experience, track record of working with Sewell, locality to the university and cultural fit with Sewell. It was wholly Yorkshire-based, which meant the pound stayed in Yorkshire and contributed to the region’s growth.

The second project involved repositioning the ‘click and collect’ facility for library books. The construction team ensured library staff were familiar with the layout, systems and procedures once work was completed and stayed on site post-handover while the end users settled back in to the space.

Newsletters were issued to end users on a regular basis, progress meetings were held fortnightly and additional daily communication took place with the library team to ensure they were fully up to speed with the project.

The first project was delivered two weeks ahead of schedule due to working closely with the supply chain and using a single team approach to deliver early, as well as to the highest quality.
Countdown to completion meetings were held on all three projects so end users knew what to expect and how to use all of the new systems.


The first project was delivered two weeks ahead of schedule with zero accidents, zero defects and on budget.

There was a local spend of £1.1m and 70% of the local supply chain, as well as 75% of the workforce, was from Leeds, with two apprentices involved.

Sewell Construction was reappointed to complete the next stage of the Sheila Silver Library refurbishment.

Meanwhile, the second and third projects were delivered on time, on budget and without accidents or defects.

The second scheme saw about 70% of local labour, 76% local spend and two apprentices involved.

The team went the extra mile to learn how the book collection system worked in the library and coordinated it for students when needed.

The third project included 100% local labour, with 10 subcontractors involved and an average of 10-12 on site per day.


Sewell picked up on variations which were needed in the design, which showed their attention to detail and saved us problems further down the line. There is a lot of professionalism there. A couple of Sewell Construction team members helped to pull books when some of the library areas were closed, which was remarkable and went above and beyond.

Kate Kluttz Learning Spaces and Operations Manager at Leeds Beckett Libraries and Learning Innovation