Screenshot of Axis Website

Week 20 of Contract S163: What can we learn?

Could multi-disciplinary teams be the answer to managing streets and homes better?

City West Homes (CWH) residents in Hanson Street have now been living in the gloom and dirt caused by the refurbishment works for 20 weeks. It’s only 10 weeks until Christmas!

A radical review of how Westminster delivers services is needed.

Seeing more clearly

Compare the two photos (below) of the internal view of the scaffolding. One of them is much tidier, isn’t?

Scaffolding covered in builders' rubbish

Internal view of scaffolding with builders’ rubbish

View of scaffolding from inside a flat

The same view, approximately one week later

A better outlook?

I asked if the builders could tidy up the growing pile of stuff in front of my window. It was the Axis Liaison Officer (Axis is the contractor delivering contract S163) who took responsibility for tidying up the mess, and I thank him. City West Homes have also acted on requests to carry out repairs, and I thank them, too.

Individuals can make a difference

In August, new faces appeared on the project at City West Homes and Axis. They have all made a difference. The challenges they face, however, are considerable:

  1. The general state of the buildings which have not been refurbished since the last century
  2. Problems with access e.g. difficulty contacting residents to arrange access to flats, lack of space to erect scaffolding, health and safety issues with scaffolding
  3. The wet weather which has resulted in many lost days of work
  4. Poor quality workmanship, in particular problems with decorators (poor preparation of surfaces, insufficient rubbing down, gloss paint poorly applied, windows jammed)

We are where we are

Since work began in May 2015, Contract 163 has been a miserable experience people living in Hanson Street. Because City West Homes have plans to carry out more large projects, probably the best thing we can do is to learn what we can, share that learning, and make sure it is applied to future City West Homes projects.

Problem 1 Disconnect between CWH and residents

There is a disconnect between City West Homes and residents. Emails go unanswered, repairs take too long, it’s not clear who does what. It is exhausting trying to get anything done.

A possible solution(s): manage streets and houses holistically

  • Build trust with residents, and the problem of gaining access to properties would almost certainly disappear
  • Review internal City West Homes structures. Consider establishing multi-disciplinary teams that include housing managers, repairs managers, recycling and waste collection teams from across Westminster Council i.e. banish silos like the one that appears to exist between housing managers and repairs, City West Homes and Westminster Council
  • Encourage CWH staff to visit properties once a month and make themselves known to residents
  • Make better use of notice boards. Explain who is responsible for what, maybe some FAQs would be helpful. Posting a list of names and job titles is unhelpful because job titles rarely describe what a person actually does
  • Consider alternative means of communication e.g. email, social media – but don’t forget the value of face to face communication.

Problem 2 Don’t ask, don’t tell: Poor project management

Poor project management during the initiation stage of contract S163, and the first ten weeks of the works commencing in May 2015. Virtually nothing happened from May until August.

It took months and months to get a decision on what colour to paint the stairwells.

Reportedly, it took six weeks to get a safety certificate for the scaffolding.

The quality of the internal and external painting is very uneven

Window frame with poorly painted frame

External window after an undercoat and top covering of gloss paint. The frame has not been properly rubbed down. That is why there are gaps in the paint. It will not last and eventually the frame will rot. It’s not what Axis would call a proper job.

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell

From a resident’s perspective, during the first ten weeks of contract S163, it  looked like City West Homes were not asking questions of Axis.

Axis may not have had the answers. We just don’t know.

But what it looks like is a culture of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’.

A possible solution: Put a great team in place and connect

  • Ensure that staff entrusted with delivering the project have the right skills and knowledge
  • Collaborate with all stakeholders
  • Create a culture of dedication to quality and learning

Since August both City West Homes and Axis have brought in different staff who have energy and totally different attitude.

Problem 3 Poor communications

Lack of transparency, poor and misleading communications.

So far, none of the work schedules that City West has given to residents has been entirely accurate.

That said, City West do seem to be a listening mode which is a big and very welcome change.

A possible solution: review the communications strategy

  • Review the communications strategy – who what how and when.
  • Don’t rely on letters and glossy newsletters that are out of date by the time they are printed
  • Be honest, and communicate in a timely fashion
  • Listen to residents when they try to tell you that things are not happening according to plan.

Problem 4 Homes not houses

For 20 weeks Hanson Street has felt like a building site. With scaffolding on 7 blocks there is no escaping the fact that works are taking place.

But Hanson Street is also home to many people.

Covering up house names and numbers caused a problem with deliveries. That kind of problem should have been anticipated. Eventually, at the request of residents, AXIS provided signs with House Names.

Work that is badly executed adds insult to injury, and undermines confidence in both City West Homes and Axis.

City West Homes is not called City West Houses. There is a good reason why City West Homes resonates more. But that seems to have been forgotten.

A possible solution: Focus on purpose

  • Focus on the purpose. Why are the works being carried out, and for whom? To tick boxes for insurance purposes or to enhance the neighbourhood? Who is most affected? Who can help and hinder the progress of the works?
  • Use a residents’ lens to review and monitor project implementation
  • Try to anticipate and minimise negative impacts on people living in the buildings
  • Be more aware of people’s needs (including the contractors’).
  • Building and maintaining trust with all stakeholders is fundamental to good project management.

Main message for City West Homes and Axis

People are working hard to run Contract S163 around.

Let’s work together to make sure that the refurbishment is good enough to last for many years.

To borrow a catch phrase from the Axis website, what we want is “property services properly delivered”.

Let’s try and avoid the same thing happening again.

You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there

Yoga Berri



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