Lessons learned from Leicester University build

The project includes seven residential blocks and a teaching and learning centre
Jake Fellows of Equans talks though the logistical obstacles and successes of his recent project for the University of Leicester.

Successfully working through the challenges brought by a £200m project to reinvigorate the University of Leicester’s learning and accommodation offer has strengthened our higher education proposition and opened opportunities within the sector.

Changing the face of a well-known part of central Leicester is no mean feat – and, with logistical challenges and a pandemic thrown in, it has taken grit and expert experience to guide the project to its final stages.

The build – 1,164 new student homes across seven blocks and a new 9,000 sq m teaching and learning centre at Freemen’s Common – began in 2019. We’ve since handed over a multi-storey car park and have restored Grade ll-listed Freemen’s Cottages on the site. The project is due to complete in its entirety later in 2022.

The business’s expertise in placemaking and regeneration at scale helped us guide the project through to financial close and taking an equity stake has assured our partners of our long-term commitment to Leicester. The scheme has been a coup for Equans in that it is coupled with a 50-year facilities management contract, incorporating maintenance of the new buildings and a specialist energy centre.

Jake Fellows CV

Regional operations director, Equans.

Has held a range of commercial, development and business leadership roles at Equans since joining the organisation (then known as Keepmoat Regeneration) in 2006.

Currently leads Major Projects, as a member of the Central region leadership team (covering Yorkshire and the Midlands). He is also responsible for a number of core business functions, including SHEQ, planning and customer care.

He holds master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration (MBA), as well as being a chartered builder (MCIOB).

A key feature of the project’s success has been bringing in Ranjit Lall, an experienced project director with expertise in delivering major high-rise developments. He built a 60-strong team though which he has instilled a resilient, collective approach to working.

Putting in place a lead for each operational area – a commercial lead, planning lead etc – meant he was able to set a strong, consistent strategy, cascaded throughout teams on the ground. This came into its own during the pandemic – Leicester was one of the first sites to get back up and running after the initial lockdown in 2020, and having trust in management systems gave teams the confidence to return.

Throughout, it has been imperative to have robust programmes and plans in place. For example, Section 278 road improvements were successfully navigated while contending with the logistics of a busy truck road and town-centre traffic – something that could not have been achieved without thorough planning and close liaison with stakeholders such as the council and planning professionals.

The project has cemented our appetite to explore similar large-scale schemes and allowed us to showcase our broad capabilities in placemaking. Equans, alongside equity partner Equitix, has since secured a project to transform Pritchatts Park at the University of Birmingham into state-of-the-art, low-carbon accommodation.

Jake Fellows is development director at Equans.

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