Ensuring the show goes on

Maintenance, refurbishment, Norland Managed Services
A key objective of facilities-management activity at Town Hall Birmingham is improving energy efficiency. (Photo: Jason Sheldon)

Ensuring the smooth operation of events in a major entertainment venue requires a specialist team with the resources and experience needed to support the entertainment programme. Darren James give an insight into the work of Norland Managed Services at Town Hall Birmingham.

Providing building services and facilities management for a building which is a major venue means that even day-to-day maintenance has to fit in with the programme of events. Norland Managed Services is no stranger to this type of assignment, already providing services to the O2 Arena in London, the world’s busiest music arena and a major sporting venue. The Midlands office has recently had its contract for Town Hall Birmingham extended for a further two years.

I run 10 contracts in Birmingham, among them The Hippodrome Theatre, offices in Snow Hill and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. They all have their challenges, but venues present the biggest challenges — especially Town Hall Birmingham.

Dating from 1834, the Town Hall is one of the most important examples of Roman Revival civic architecture in the country. In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens gave public readings there. During the 1960s and 1970s it was a popular music venue — with headline acts such as Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan appearing there. Today, the Grade 1 listed building is used for a large number of events throughout the year — including concerts from classical to rock, corporate events, graduation ceremonies and weddings.

Town Hall reopened in 2007, following a painstaking £35 million renovation funded by Birmingham City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. Norland, appointed in 2009, covers comprehensive mechanical and electrical services, planned preventative maintenance to the building and fabric maintenance.

There is always something going on at the Town Hall, and even our day-to-day maintenance has to be scheduled around the various programmes, which usually include events in the afternoon and evening most days of the week.

We have one resident engineer, Alex Jones, and a number of other engineers who attend to many elements such a historical landmark features. Jack Beck is the fabric engineer and he is constantly painting different parts of the building.

We work closely with the client team — Nick Loveland, the director of facilities operations for the Town Hall and Symphony Hall, and Natalie Russell, the facilities co-ordinator — to plan all the work meticulously. We have always been open and honest with them and have subsequently built a great client relationship. There are rarely any issues at all at the monthly meetings. The Norland ethos of providing ‘exceptional service’ is certainly practised here.

Maintaining a good environment to ensure the well-being of the famous 6000-pipe organ at Town Hall Birmingham is just one of the responsibilities of Norland Managed Services. (Photo: Mike Gutteridge)

Nick Loveland says: ‘Over the past three years we have forged a productive and successful relationship with Norland. As a result, we had no hesitation in opting to extend this contact, and we look forward to two more successful years of the partnership.

‘Key to the success of the contract is Norland’s flexible approach. They accommodate the venue’s demanding requirements, often at very short notice.’

All works have to be planned to fit around the events programme, which means there are strict deadlines — not only to complete the planned work but also to deal with any additional complications that emerge during that work.

These can sometimes be challenging, but, as they say, the show must go on! I have engineers I can pull from other sites, as well as up to eight mobile engineers in the Birmingham area that I can call upon if required to resolve a particular problem. Being able to provide this level of cover for all my Birmingham contracts is reassuring to my clients, and this approach was tested during last summer’s riots when we moved teams around to where they were needed most.

Natalie Russell say: ‘We work well with Norland, and we rarely have any issues. I am always confident that they will finish their work on time, no matter what happens.’

We do operate a system of regularly rotating engineers between sites. This stops them becoming too blinkered, providing variety and exposing them to different challenges and approaches. As a company, Norland provides ongoing training to ensure all engineers are abreast of the latest advances and approaches, and sharing best practice across the group.

A key objective at the Town Hall is improving energy efficiency. Energy consumption, especially electricity, is a major cost and one we are doing a lot to address. Although major works are constrained by budget availability, we are in the process of installing LED lights across all the lounges, and we are looking to extend this across the entire building. Nick Loveland comments: ‘We are already seeing savings as a result, which are always welcome in these difficult times.’

Apart from working around the programme, we also have to take special care of the famous 6000-pipe concert organ. Originally installed by William Hill in 1834, it has been restored several times, most recently in 2007 by Manders of London. The services controlling temperature and humidity are crucial for ensuring its well-being. Keeping the organ in good heart is a special consideration, but is just one aspect of keeping this special building in fine tune.

Darren James is contracts manager with Norland Managed Services

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