When it comes to working with a new supplier, everybody has reservations. Natalie Harris, Business Manager at Longdendale High School in Tameside reveals how her magic formula enabled her to ensure two outdated science labs were refurbished to the highest standard.
“When I became the business manager at Longdendale High School three years ago, it was very evident Longdendale was a friendly, warm and welcoming school. However, due to changes with government funding there were significant pockets of the 1970’s building that needed bringing up to date.
My knowledge of the grant application process and work to improve links with the Local Authority has since enabled us to make many improvements around the school – but frustratingly for all and high up our agenda, we still had a duo of mixed science labs that hadn’t been updated since their installation in the 70s.”
“They were so in need of refurbishment that the respective teachers all but offered to roll up their sleeves and paint the labs themselves.
When we secured funds to kick-start their renovation, we all celebrated and cheered before realising we had the problem of procurement. Who do we use? How do we vet them? How do we ensure value? And how do we ensure that delivery timeframes and budget are met?
Worse still, we had reason to be very cautious. Previous bad experiences led myself and the site manager Matt Murray to implement and set up a rigorous but fluid vetting process that ultimately saw us appoint Innova Design Group to design, manufacture and install the labs.”
"Practically, we also had several aims. Given our tight budgets it was essential to keep the project on track. Completion before September was also key to avoid the headache of snagging during term time. This placed turnaround time high up on our agenda."
Setting out our vision and practical requirements
“While we’re not experts at science lab design, input from our head of science and teachers in the department meant we had a clear idea of the outcomes we wanted to achieve from the refreshment of the labs, with several elements being particularly important to our overall vision.
Suitability for teaching and learning was our primary aim, but we knew that multi-functional, easily-adapted spaces would facilitate this by making both group and practical lessons engaging. Equally critically, we wanted our teachers to be proud of their workplace and to supercharge student attainment.
Laying our vision out before us, enabled us to come up with a checklist that we could use to make stipulations during the procurement process.”
“Science labs are complex installations with numerous technical and practical considerations, and while images don’t always tell the full story – they certainly start to reveal the differences between genuinely quality jobs and jobs that deliver only on a basic level.
When selecting a supplier to design, manufacture and install our two new science labs – visual evidence of quality delivery was an absolute priority, so brochures, websites, images and even videos were essential.
This approach meant we ended up getting a genuine feel for the style of work that our preferred supplier delivered before even speaking to them. We already had a sense that the firm had a modern, clean style and credentials on numerous projects with the look we wanted to achieve.
Spending this time upfront searching online and perusing brochures allayed many of our initial fears around working with a new supplier.”
"Luckily for us in the case of our science labs, the references came back freely and easily. Indeed several of the referees we spoke to made us aware that they were so pleased with completion that repeat work was scheduled."
“It sounds so obvious, but following up references is the quickest easiest way to check on the credentials of a supplier.
The golden piece of advice however is to ask for several references and follow them all up.
If a supplier is only able to provide one reference, this should set alarm bells ringing. Likewise, if people prove hesitant to respond – you should exercise caution.
Genuine personal testimonials like this will do more to allay any concerns about using a new supplier than anything else. Don’t settle for a standard professional response. Wait until somebody waxes lyrical.”
“A good supplier is likely to be as timely and efficient in project execution as they will be during the negotiation and procurement stages.
To this end, I always use negotiations as a way of weeding out companies that seem too busy, disinterested or disorganised – as this is unlikely to change in execution.
Being ruthless here will discount a number of companies and make your ultimate decision a lot easier.
Always be encouraged when you receive prompt emails with a friendly open tone – when finalising our decision on which supplier to use, timeliness was absolutely essential.”
“Having followed a set of very simple checks and balances, our stunning new science labs were delivered on budget two weeks ahead of schedule.
"Significantly for us, the layout of the labs has now been totally overhauled and reconfigured. The teacher is now on the long wall of the classroom, meaning lines of communication have been shortened and that teachers can hold the attention of pupils for longer."
More importantly still, because of the effective planning and coordination between ourselves and our specified supplier Innova Design Group, the job delivers on all counts we considered essential.
Furthermore, the spaces are incredibly versatile. Theory and practical spaces have been kept separate while loose tables can be configured for teacher led lessons, individual tasks and group work. A long fixed bench at the back of the room keeps experiments and services such as gas, water and electricity out of the way.
And because the labs now feature huge amounts of storage the rooms feel much bigger than they did previously.
Throughout the process we worked with Innova to refine and develop our vision and as a result this duo of labs – built entirely around the needs of our pupils and teachers – were delivered smoothly and efficiently.
The school leadership team and the teachers are delighted with the result and we can’t wait to see the labs in action. But without a rigorous, friendly and fluid procurement process the result might have been much different.”