Go Back
2020 Vision: PM in a pandemic


2020 Vision: PM in a pandemic

Back in March 2019, when we began working on the River Street Tower student accommodation scheme in Manchester, HE Simm’s remit was to deliver the full M&E package. Little did we know at that point what challenges lay ahead!

Our client Downing Construction develops and manages bespoke accommodation in cities across the UK. River Street Tower was a £110m development just five minutes from Manchester Metropolitan University and Piccadilly Station. With 792 bedrooms, a gym, games room, communal social space, dining area, laundry and cinema, this was an exciting, challenging project for us in a thriving part of the city.

I’ve worked throughout the UK, in the North West for 15 years, and was pleased to be heading up a strong HE Simm team working on the project. I’m from an electrical background and was joined by a construction manager, mechanical engineer, mechanical supervisor, electrical supervisor, logistics manager and trainee engineer. For the first year of the project, we regularly had between 30 and 40 supply chain subcontractors working on site. Sustainability kept our operative numbers on site to a minimum.


As with all large projects in a city centre, we had our regular issues to overcome and then of course Covid-19 hit! The implementation of Government guidelines and social distancing was a major issue, with lockdowns and the threat of site closures looming. We reached out to the wider business. HE Simm immediately organised daily Covid conference calls to raise issues, identify solutions and share best practice across HE Simm and Downing Construction sites. Both teams pulled together, quickly adapting to guidelines and the challenges that entailed and developing new processes to ensure the safety of all operatives on site. Risks were assessed and minimised.

Personal safety and the health and wellbeing of all operatives was a priority, with new procedures and appropriate PPE issued. The newly introduced business processes and associated paperwork were completed each morning prior to works commencing on site. Start times were staggered so there was no sudden influx of labour and we asked people to travel to work in separate cars. Our trainee engineer became a Covid marshal, making sure people were keeping to social distancing rules and were wearing the appropriate PPE.

Any issues identified were escalated and resolved immediately with a robust audit trail.
HE Simm and Downing worked collaboratively, applying a zero-tolerance policy to those who didn’t adhere to the strict guidelines and always leading by example. A small number of operatives, due to personal circumstances, did not feel comfortable working on site. As a business we respected their decision and offered support, keeping in regular contact and allowing the individuals to return to work when comfortable, ready and able.

Procurement worked tirelessly to source all of the specified products required from the limited suppliers still trading, to enable us to maintain progress and keep on track.
The last couple of months were a real challenge but we continued to remain positive recognising the finish line was in sight. We worked diligently, methodically and managed to complete the project not only on time but to an excellent standard.


The collective measures we implemented were effective – thankfully, no one on site tested positive for Covid and we learned so much in the process.

I believe our monthly project meetings will continue remotely rather than on site, saving time and money. New lines of communication have opened up between all construction sites, and Project Managers are sharing experiences.

Six months after the pandemic struck, River Street Tower welcomed its first batch of student residents, as originally planned.

As Project Manager, getting this scheme over the line safely, on time and to a high standard during a global pandemic felt like a huge achievement. It was a real team effort and a testament to positivity, collaboration, communication and openness. Tough as 2020 has been, I feel that I’ve learned a lot I can take forward with HE Simm.