East Northamptonshire Enterprise CentreEast Northamptonshire Enterprise Centre
East Northamptonshire Enterprise Centre
A Starship Robot driving down a streetA Starship Robot driving down a street
A Starship Robot driving down a street
School students having a discussion with their teacherSchool students having a discussion with their teacher
School students having a discussion with their teacher
Northampton College Advanced Engineering CentreNorthampton College Advanced Engineering Centre
Northampton College Advanced Engineering Centre
Northampton Waterside CampusNorthampton Waterside Campus
Northampton Waterside Campus
People talking in a building under constructionPeople talking in a building under construction
People talking in a building under construction

‘Remarkably resilient’

12 October 2021

Neil Hart manages the Getting Building Fund (GBF) programme for SEMLEP, overseeing £27.3m of government spending to support COVID recovery. Neil started his career in corporate banking and asset finance before moving into the voluntary and community sector. More recently he spent eight years with the National Trust, joining SEMLEP last November, mid pandemic and with all the challenges this involved …

‘Remarkably resilient’ are the words that come to mind when I reflect on our GBF programme. I joined SEMLEP mid pandemic and because of covid restrictions I spent my first few months fixed to a computer screen. The ‘getting to the know my new colleagues’ events took place via Teams. Project ‘visits’ were all virtual and building tours were all online. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that I finally set foot inside the SEMLEP offices.

The construction industry acted promptly when the pandemic struck, with new working practises quickly up and running – washing facilities, mask-wearing, distancing and more. Covid was, arguably, less damaging to this sector than others, although no less disruptive. Strong risk management and partnership working have been key to successful project delivery. During the various lockdowns, I was limited to my home office, trying to visualise the particular challenges of each project while not being able to physically see the lie of the land. The contributions of project managers and partners were key and at SEMLEP we ensured we were close (if remotely!) to our partners.

In recent months – finally - I’ve been out and about and it’s been eye-opening.

When I visited Bedford Green Energy Innovation Park, for example, the sheer scale of it really hit me. Until I had seen the site for myself, I hadn’t appreciated the impact the scheme would make. This Park is located on a 30-ha former landfill site and the size, as well as the amount of earth needed to cap the landfill, had been difficult to visualise.

What a feat – an innovative project focused on generating green, low carbon, clean energy to encourage others to reduce carbon emissions, adopt innovative technologies, and improve air quality. The challenge and what the team is achieving is incredible, especially when you consider it was one of the wettest winters on record. This could have put the team back hugely, but it hasn’t. So remarkably resilient. The solar panels are now on order, so exciting developments are afoot.

Kettering Gallery Library and Museum (GLaM), particularly given my experience with heritage, has been another highlight. The redevelopment of this new-look gallery, library and museum in Kettering town centre is picking up pace this month – with builders laying steel foundations and new artists impressions about to be unveiled.

It’s just over a year since SEMLEP’s funding was first approved and since then North Northants Council have provided an additional £1million of match funding. Construction is on track, due to finish next Spring and the project team is now focusing on the opening programme. It hasn’t been all plain sailing. Last October, surveys detected a roosting bat which could have caused enormous delays. Detailed surveys were conducted, mitigation agreed and fortunately a bat license was granted. It is a testament to the teamwork involved that the project is on track.

Barnfield College in Luton received the biggest pot of GBF funding from SEMLEP and has been an incredibly ambitious project. Despite the challenges of covid, the project team have been on site since April. Land was cleared, and the team then had to deal with complex and deep foundations and groundworks. Getting out of the ground was a challenge, while all the time focusing on ensuring students were able to keep on track with their studies.

When I was finally able to visit this Luton project there was an added surprise, something not included in the original application. The plans – I hadn’t appreciated this until the project visit - include the creation of a new linear park next to the site. This means that as well as all the new jobs, learners and new building we are getting new green space for the Luton community. A huge bonus and one we are delighted to be reporting to government.

What a job I have – working with incredible talented delivery teams to support the green recovery, enhance local culture, built state of the art training facilities and more. I’m proud to work on projects that deliver real benefits for our communities at the heart of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.

It was last August that I first saw the SEMLEP job vacancy on LinkedIn and it felt like a perfect fit - a way of combining my banking and financial background with my experience in and passion for delivering projects that benefit communities. I wanted to contribute more and SEMLEP has enabled me to work for an organisation that shares my values – protecting and developing people and places and nurturing and supporting cross-sector working.

The Getting Building Fund

In June 2020, the Government announced a £900million investment programme, the Getting Building Fund, for local, ready-to-start infrastructure projects that stimulate jobs and support economic recovery across the country.

The SEMLEP area was allocated £27.3million and was invited to submit project proposals, to be approved by Ministers.

In the South East Midlands, our projects will create nearly 500 new jobs and support more than 2,300 students, aiding in the economic recovery of our area.

Find out more about the fund and all the GBF projects in the SEMLEP region here: https://www.semlep.com/getting-building-fund/

Your login details have been used by another user or machine. Login details can only be used once at any one time so you have therefore automatically been logged out. Please contact your sites administrator if you believe this other user or machine has unauthorised access.