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11


Learning to live with change COMMENT


Rob Charlton of Space Architects discusses his practice’s ethos of delivering buildings that improve people’s lives in the context of education, and the changes the sector has undergone recently


H


aving been in practice for almost 30 years, I have spent a lot of my time designing school buildings, and as such have seen an enormous amount of change. However, most of the change is not necessarily in design, more to do with procurement, and depending on the Government’s approach. When I started out in the 1990s, there was very little investment in schools. Most buildings were in a poor state of repair, and hadn't been maintained for decades. Much of the school estate comprised either Victorian buildings or lightweight 1970s CLASP structures, built in response to the baby boom. With the election of Labour in 1997, things began to change.


Tony Blair's mantra was “Education, Education, Education.” Blair committed to massive capital investment in the public sector, including the health and school estates. Initially, the Government did not have an infrastructure to deliver an extensive work programme, and relied upon local education authorities to procure the work and develop new schools in a bespoke manner.


My first school at the time was Blyth Community College (BCC) for Northumberland County Council in 2000. BCC was a 1,200-student high school with a budget of £15.5m. It was a great project and a real team effort between the school, constructor and design team. This was in the days when partnering was very much in fashion.


The then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, could see the benefits of Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which would allow the Government to do more with less. In effect, it was mortgaging the construction of schools.


PFI was interesting as it also took into account the building's operational cost for the first time. However, often the construction budgets were tight, which affected the design. At the time, the specification was generally bespoke to each contract, meaning there was lots of variation.


The Labour Government then launched the £55bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in 2005, a centrally


Oakfields Community College, Middlesborough (L&R)


ADF JUNE 2021


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