Chris Evans, Lawray director, reflects on the challenges and benefits of co-locating multiple front-line service organisations under one roof.

As architects we are constantly thinking of creative ways to fulfil our client’s aspirations even when they may not have a clear picture of what they initially want. Our constant desire to make a difference through clever and innovative design can sometimes distract us from simple key principles such as sharing resources and co-locating facilities.

Have a portion of (something) with another or others.

Share a location or facility with something

Lawray has worked within the blue light sector for over a decade. Most notably, the catalyst for repeat commissions was the result of a breakthrough collaboration project that co-located Mid and West Wales Fire Service, Dyfed Powys Police and HMCS into a single building in Llandrindod Wells back in 2013. There is a clear appetite from senior management within the blue light sector to share and co-locate with other front-line services, with cost being one of the key drivers. But what are the challenges and benefits for the organisations and wider community?

Humans naturally resist change and that’s no different in this type of situation. Over the years we have worked with multiple organisations that are forced to make changes to their working environments.

Typically, challenges exist within their own facility, so when you attempt to then add one, two or even three other organisations under the same roof, there will understandably be certain reservations and nervousness from the individuals who will be affected.

For one organisation the change could be transformational: A new place to work? Enhanced modern facilities that they didn’t have previously? A real opportunity to collaborate with partnering organisations?

But for the organisation that facilitates the co-location, we often see a resistance and questions asked: Why do we have to accommodate others? Why do we have to give up our space? What effect will this have on parking? How many people will be moving here?

Engaging with stakeholders to unlock value

As architects working on these types of commissions, we quickly become negotiators, meditators, and peacekeepers. We are quick to find solutions but often take longer to identify the issues. Only through experience have we learnt how to put ourselves into each organisation’s shoes to really understand how they think, how they operate, and what their real needs are. We can then sensitively broker and negotiate smart solutions that aim to strike a balance, so that all parties see benefits in what we are trying to gain.

There are clear capital and operational benefits. Multiple organisations physically coming together and sharing investment in one building is clearly more beneficial than investing in several individual sites.

Operationally, the shared environment has clear long-term savings and provides real opportunities to make informed design decisions whilst reviewing the overlap between Capex and Opex. When going out alone in this sector, we often see real pinch points at Capex that results in higher maintenance and operational costs over the lifecycle of the building. By having multiple streams of investment together with common and shared facilities, far less pressure is placed on the capital side of the model. There is always an opportunity to be flexible in the approach to suit the funding model. For example, if a Fire Service give up some area for the Police but the Police have limited capital funds available, the Fire Service may consider recouping expenditure by means of a lease agreement.

Net zero carbon in operation

We are also seeing a major shift in awareness towards environmental matters. These organisations are fully on board with the need for decarbonisation and all have a huge challenge to face with their stock, where investment is required to bring buildings up to a level that aspires to achieve net zero at operational level.

Creating a sustainable facility for the whole community

One of the biggest benefits we have seen first-hand is the collaboration between parties once the building works are complete. Although we mentioned the resistance to change, once we carefully manage and consult during the design phases, the real results are only sen once occupants move in. Most of the outcomes have been positive. The fact that a number of these organisations work together and get called out together, there are real opportunities to undertake training together in one place. There are social and team building benefits too. Shared spaces such as canteens, crew rooms and gyms suddenly become a place to group, a place to bounce off ideas, a place to socialise, and a place to build new relationships. This can only have a positive impact on the Emergency Services sector as a whole.

The challenges remain for every job, but the benefits will always outweigh them. Our constant desire as architects to continually improve means that we constantly review our work at the ‘in use’ stages. Years of information gathering and taking time for lessons learnt helps us drive continuous improvement. We have this constant desire to keep fine tuning what we deliver. We are only as good as the next project!

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