Garners Foodservice Equipment’s involvement in delivering the vast catering facilities at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital has occupied such a large chunk of time that the company’s project manager, Jonathan Meats, can define some of the most important milestones in his life by it.
Main contractor Skanska kicked off the £1 billion construction scheme back in 2006 and Meats can vividly recall starting work on the catering aspect of the project after Garners’ successfully tendered its bid for the work.
“I actually remember distinctly when I got involved in the project because my daughter was about to be born and I knew that by the time the job finished she’d be at school. She’s in her second year now and we have two kids!” says Meats, who has overseen the seven-year scheme from start to finish.
Garners handed over the last piece of work that fell under its control last month, capping its involvement in a project that, at the time it commenced, represented the largest ever hospital development in Europe.
With 746 beds at The Royal London in Whitechapel and 290 beds at St. Bart’s near Farringdon, the catering requirements were always going to be substantial, and so that has proved.
“The biggest challenge of all has been the entirety and size of the project,” comments Meats.
“Our total order value for catering equipment was nearly £2m by the time we had finished, which is a big order for anybody in this country.
"We do big projects but this has been our largest. I think the previous biggest was £1.2m to £1.5m, so this eclipses that by some way.”
Across the two sites, Garners has delivered two major staff restaurant kitchens, numerous cafes and grab and go facilities, and some 35 regen kitchens to serve the wards.
At St Bart’s, phase one of the project involved the creation of a major cold storage facility and cooking appliances to support a local ground-floor servery and a main production kitchen responsible for 80% of the site’s output.
In installation terms, it has required the Nottingham-based distributor to fit between two and three significant areas a year — an arrangement that Meats actually calls “quite fortuitous” as it afforded the company sufficient time to deal with each component sensibly.
Ironically, the last phase of catering works that Garners has just handed over formed one of the smaller parts of the job, involving, as it did, a grab and go area in the basement atrium, three regen kitchens and a small restaurant kitchen on level 2 of St Bart’s.
That said, the restaurant kitchen still comprised a hefty equipment inventory ranging from a bespoke servery and Moffat drop-in units to Rational ovens and an Ansul fire suppression system. With a heavy duty Ambach cooking suite also fitted, Meats admits it was a “well specified job”.
As you can imagine, a project of such depth and enormity throws up a very different set of challenges to those that might ordinarily be the case with a routine kitchen refurbishment.
For a start, with the planning and conception completed for all areas of the job prior to the first phase of the works beginning seven years ago, an inflationary rate had to be built into the pricing depending on the year when the installs took place.
The project at the Royal London comprised the construction of a new concrete-framed building with three towers up to 18 floors high. Getting catering equipment into the ward kitchens situated on almost every level of the premises was no mean feat.
“It is hard enough finding your way around a hospital when there are signs up but when there are no signs up and it is a building site, it is a different challenge completely,” says Meats.
“The lifts were difficult to get access to in order to get everything installed. It sounds silly but having to wait 30 to 45 minutes to take up every piece of equipment when you are used to rolling it through a door and into position delays the installation.
“We once climbed up 14 floors to reach one of the top regen kitchens and the guy with us who was measuring up for the canopies needed to go and put some money on his car. So we had to go all the way back down and then back up again!”
From a working perspective, meanwhile, the Garners team found themselves making relationships with people at Skanska who, through career choice or other reasons, moved on during the course of the project.
There were even some instances where individuals moved on only to rejoin the project at a later stage.
“The job was that big it was almost like dealing with a separate company for each area because you moved onto a different site team for that area,” remarks Meats. “So you had to rebuild those relationships and re-explain how our installation and the M&E side worked all over again.”
The market itself also changed significantly during that seven-year period, not least because the global credit crisis took hold midway through.
Additionally, things like the discontinuation of product lines posed a challenge, while some brands specified for the job underwent ownership changes.
New trends emerged, too. Costa branded coffee areas, for instance, grew in acceptance whereas demand for that kind of retail concept simply wasn’t there at the beginning of the project.
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Meats notes that even the accreditations required to get on site were altered while the job was in full flow.
“This obviously doesn’t sound a big thing these days but Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) cards came in during the course of the project.
"It was one of the first projects where you had to have a qualified supervisor and because no companies had it at the time, Skanska ran a specific course for it.
"Nowadays, the CSCS card is a given, you don’t even talk about it anymore.”
With £2m worth of catering equipment ordered, Garners dealt with dozens of suppliers as the project unfolded, although Meats says there was a concerted effort to maintain consistency wherever possible.
“We tried to keep consistency from a manufacturing point of view, particularly in terms of the bespoke equipment. We were fortunate to be able to use Philmar, our main fabricator, all the way through the project.
“So from phase 1A, everything from a fabrication point of view remained with the same supplier, which I think was probably key because you build a level of expectation on your first install.
“And with the recession in the middle of it all, it could have been quite easy for any given company to have disappeared in that timescale.”
A number of ‘mainstay’ brands were used throughout the duration of the contract, including Rational, Ambach, Foster and Williams, while Winterhalter supplied all of the dishwashing equipment, including more than 30 pass-through models for the regen kitchens.
After seven years at the coal face, Meats can take a step back and know that every single element of the catering schedule has been delivered.
That’s not to say Garners’ association with Skanska and Bart’s and the London NHS Trust ends here: the company has created a preventative maintenance plan and will be on hand to deal with any post-project issues.
“Albeit the job is handed over from my point of view, service calls will be taken,” says Meats.
“Having said that, we haven’t had a great deal of calls raised on it. It has gone in pretty smoothly considering the scale of it.”
After seven years in the making, Garners can confidently draw a line under a catering equipment estate that is in the finest possible health.
View pictures of the project in our online gallery here.
End-client: Bart’s and The London NHS Trust
Main contractor: Skanska
Contract period: Construction started in 2006 with completion due in 2016
Overall contract value: £1 billion
Catering equipment spend: £2m
Objective: Construction of two new state-of-the-art hospitals on separate but existing cites in Central London, covering a build area of 270,000 m2. Existing hospitals in service throughout project
Key brands used throughout Garners’ work at St Bart’s and The Royal London Hospitals include:
Ambach Cooking suites
Duralit Light equipment
Foster Refrigeration cabinets
ER Moffat Servery counters
Merrychef High-speed ovens
Philmar Bespoke fabrication
Rational Combination ovens
Roller Grill Contact grills
Williams Display refrigeration