The truth is that I didn’t know that much about property, other than that my Dad loved to treat our family home like a toy house, so there would always be a wall being taken out here, an extension there, writes Anita Singh of Turner & Townsend.
I recall playing ‘tig’ in excavated foundations for the garage (I thought every child did this, no?) and then almost falling in whilst the concrete was being poured. Not to forget a particularly vivid summer in India playing in a mini desert (a huge pile of building sand). It was a very DIY household. Little did I know I was being subliminally brainwashed into a love of construction.
In Hong Kong I studied disaster management as part of my degree, and it became apparent that good infrastructure and construction is fundamental in the success of society and recovery – something that is generally overlooked by the public. Housing, factories, hospitals, data centres, workplace, power, transport, telecommunication: the impact they have on wellbeing, everyday frustrations, time, futureproofing and even economic resilience can be underestimated outside of the sector, and even from within.
After three years in the industry, I had my eye on project management – I wanted the overview, the ability to influence and work on diverse schemes through their life cycles. And now here I am. I have worked on £28m schools for Star Academies, an intensely rewarding SEN temporary school project for the ESFA, a commercial high end fit-out, where the first thing the client said to me was “I want the latest tech” (I do get excited when I hear that), the Wythenshawe Hospital masterplan, and the MMU International Screen School. Plus numerous Manchester Life Schemes and even battery storage units. Not only that, I have coordinated filming and training programmes, interviewed managing directors, dealt with unexploded ordnance, anthrax (natural, and ok, it was actually a hoax), participated in triathlons, and carried out workshops at Larkhill Primary school as part of CSR. It is a fast-paced sector, where I find that I am anticipating or problem-solving often, much like disaster management all those years ago. I love it.
Now there is a re-discovered enthusiasm around the industry, and the public are beginning to realise its significance. The skylines are changing, and people want to be involved. As a sector we are getting better at engagement, there are schemes such as Tim Heatley’s Regeneration Brainery, recently Stephen Gleave assembled a group of professionals to discuss Manchester in 2050, and through procurement we are able to specify community engagement and local employment as priorities.
Independent organisations such as the Forum for the Built Environment and Forum for Tomorrow are facilitating access to policy makers, hosting topical conversations and inclusive, accessible events. The industry is finally embracing and providing platforms for the integration of tech – Go PlaceTech!
Built environment is at the very centre of society, whether we’re masterplanning North Manchester General Hospital, or complaining about potholes; we’re all involved.