The power of partnerships

Chris Soper, Joint Managing Director of Sewell Construction, discusses how partnerships are essential to the construction industry, and what ingredients are essential for building a successful collaboration.

For some organisations, there’s a ‘them and us’ mentality. You’re a customer or you’re a supplier, and the relationship often starts off with competing interests.

That’s not how we work. To us, the aim is to create a genuine partnership with everyone we work with, so we’re all working towards the same goal. If you’re building a health centre, for example, you want it to be the best health centre it can be, you want staff to rave about working there, patients to have a great experience, and the building to look great. That’s exactly what we want too! We want people to see the building and be impressed, we want to involved the community every step of the way, to make a difference to people’s lives by providing modern facilities. So if we’re both looking for the same outcome, why not make the journey as smooth as possible by working together in partnership?

Partnership working can come in many forms, but it’s all about creating a shared sense of ownership, and a collective desire to achieve the best outcomes for all stakeholders. If you truly feel part of something, you’ve got a greater stake in the outcome. You want to do your best, because the end product reflects on you, and your skills. For our construction teams, it’s really rewarding for them to be able to drive past a school, or a hospital, and know that they were involved in bringing it to life.

There are also more benefits to working in partnership. Sometimes, we’re brought into a construction project at a late stage. The design’s set in stone, the budget’s fixed, and we’re just there to follow the plans. Sometimes that’s inevitable, but from our point of view we can add so much more value if we’re involved from the early stages of a project.

Full steam ahead

For our recent refurbishment of the historic former Central Fire Station into the state-of-the-art STEAM Studios for Ron Dearing University Technical College, we were a true partner. Brought in at an early stage of the planning process through a two-stage tendering process, we were able to take a long-term view of what was best for the building and deliver best value for money, helping develop the brief.

We could recommend that a large proportion of the overall budget was put into improvements to the building fabric – something which will affect the sustainability performance for the full lifetime of the building, rather than just being a short-term fix. Having worked with the UTC in the past, they trusted our advice, and our desire to do what was best for them, and we trusted them to weigh up the options we presented to them and make a decision which would be in the best interests of the building.

So what makes a great partnership?

Like any relationship in life, partnerships work best when all aspects are in balance, and it’s important to have shared risks and opportunities at the core of the alliance.

As we saw with the STEAM Studios project, building a mutual trust amongst partners is a key ingredient to success. This doesn’t happen overnight, and through the years we’ve found that trust comes from transparency, a joint approach to problem solving, and the ability to have open conversations, no matter the challenges.

Communication is always key. Although partnerships are able to improve efficiencies, encourage innovation and push the boundaries to achieve outcomes that go way beyond a single project, this is only possible if the partners feel able and willing to talk things out as equals. Working in partnership should be all about challenging the norm and creating added value for stakeholders and communities. So as a construction company, we need to be comfortable enough to challenge the client when we feel they’re making a misjudgement, and we also need to be approachable enough that the client can ask for our advice on anything, and know we won’t hesitate to give an honest opinion that’s in the project’s best interest. This is only possible with deep trust and consistent communication.

Caring for the city
We’ve been a strategic estates partner with Hull Citycare since 2004. The partnership has brought over £100m worth of investment into Hull’s primary care estates, and what’s been achieved would be impossible without a reliable and honest partnership. One project that stands out is the completion of West Hull Health Hub, an £8m new build health centre which Citycare appointed us to develop in 2020.

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Communication and trust
Communication and trust were absolutely key during this project, as the build took place during the pandemic. The challenges this brought, through supply chain delays and labour shortages, meant trust between all partners was essential to keep the project on schedule. Citycare trusted us to make decisions, and we trusted them to support us, and collectively we were able to make a difference to the local community during delivery and now in operation.

So we’ve explored what makes a good partnership. But what benefits does it bring?

Partnerships provide more certainty and assurance for the client, through development of a trusted team and shared risk management. For larger programmes of work, they promote joined up decisions to be made for the long-term benefit, rather than doing things in isolation, and a strong partnership can really improve speed of movement and enable things to be achieved a lot quicker and more efficiently.

Long term partnerships mean all partners can learn and grow together. Continued learning drives improvements for future projects, something which isn’t possible on isolated schemes.

Partnerships also promote shared investment into the future, which isn’t always viable with adversarial procurement routes and single project thinking.

In modern day construction, it’s important that we’re delivering schemes in a sustainable way, and leaving a legacy beyond the project. In our experience, partnerships enable this, and provide a platform to allow the project or development programme to have maximum impact.

Get in touch to find out more

Generally, we’d recommend that partnerships are considered for all developments which require proactivity and reliability – especially large scale developments, quick turnaround projects, and sensitive working environments.

As part of Sewell Group, we’ve experience of many types of partnerships, and have a number of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) in place, alongside being part of a wide range of Public Procurement Regulations-compliant frameworks. We also have consultancy businesses who can input into business cases, strategic planning, asset management and sustainability.

If you’d like to talk to us more about partnerships and how these can revolutionise your project outcomes, please get in touch.

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