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Orbit and Appello partner to overcome the challenges of upgrading a 16th century independent living site.

Orbit Case Study

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each block paving section was given a washable number, to enable the team to reinstate the block paving in exactly the same area”

Over the past 16 months Appello, technology enabled care (TEC) providers, and Orbit, housing group, have been working closely together to upgrade Malt Mill Lane with a fully digital emergency alarm system, Smart Living Solutions (SLS).

Appello’s SLS system was selected by Orbit in 2020, to upgrade 16 of their independent living sheltered housing properties. This was part of their proactive strategy to ensure they were not impacted by the ongoing digital upgrade of the telecoms network, due for completion in 2025 and to provide the benefits of digital services to their customers and staff as soon as possible.

However, Malt Mill Lane proved to be a complex site to upgrade. Dating back to the 1600s, Malt Mill Lane has Roman ancestry history, 28 of the 88 developments were listed as grade I (exceptional national architectural or historical importance), grade II (special architectural importance) and grade II* (national importance or special interest). Therefore, planning permission became convoluted.

In this interview, we learn more about the challenges faced from, Christian Halford, Capital Delivery Contracts Manager at Orbit, Graham Holliday, Service Development Officer at Orbit and Kevin Saunders, Contracts Manager at Appello.

What complexities did you have to overcome with this project?

Christian Halford began: “Due to the nature of the property and new material editions for the digital systems, we began the process by consulting with our Planning Consultant Review Associates, where we created the initial planning application. This was rejected due to aesthetic impact on the building, specifically the outside cabinets and cabling.

I therefore worked closely with Appello’s solutions architect to create various options for Stratford District council to approve.”

Kevin Saunders commented: “The planning took almost a year and over that time we researched seven design options and were rejected six times. The issues we had to overcome included no cabling allowed to be on show on the outside of the buildings, no catenaries allowed, so all span cabling had to go underground, and cabinet locations, even measuring the distance from buildings to ensure they had been located correctly.”

Christian Halford went on to say: “We were desperate to get to a position where we could find an option that was acceptable from a council planning perspective. In the end, due to distances exceeding 90 metres from various block row runs, it was decided that the most preferred option that we were going to put forward for planning permission would require a second server room. The only option for that was the upper level of a grade I and communal laundry room which dated back to the 16th century.

“In order to consider that option, we needed to get a structural engineer to do a structural report on the condition and stability of the room. Because of the extra wide loading of the server, we needed to actually remove a redundant hot water cylinder from the upper level laundry room. But after doing the structural report and bringing in a third party to complete an existing and proposed layout plan, the seventh plan was sent and approved in February 2022.

“The only conditions were that we had to fully install the remote switch cabinets in all locations. A couple of them were internal to communal areas. A couple of them were wall mounted, a few of them were floor mounted to various gable wall areas of various block row runs. As long as we fully adhered to the proposed layout drawings in terms of server room locations and remote switch cabinets, the council were happy to approve.”

Kevin Saunders said: “Due to the layout of the site and cable run lengths, we fitted 10 cabinets. Due to the number of cabinets we also had to carry out civil works to get cables across a cobbled street and into remote buildings. This meant that we had to take up paving and cobbles and have to relay them, hiding cable trunking in existing pipe cladding.”

Christian Halford further explained the hiding of the cables: “There was a hose pipe that runs under the eaves and actually waters all of the properties external hanging baskets. So, what we did is follow those water irrigation system lines in terms of hosing, because if it was all isolated in terms of external fixing, it would be too noticeable and not acceptable by the planning department.

“The CAT5 cabling was excavated 450 millimetres deep, and to make sure that the block paving was refixed in exactly the same order, each block paving section was given a washable number, to enable the team to reinstate the block paving in exactly the same area. The CAT5 cabling work was very well received.

“In terms of the end finish of those block paved areas and tarmac areas, I thought the way it looked was fantastic, especially the block paving and the cable laid under and reinstated, you wouldn’t know really.”

Were any changes made to the SLS unit?

Christian Halford commented: “For the 28 grade II listed properties we weren’t allowed to use typical PVC backing plates for the SLS Living hubs. Instead, we had to attach brackets into the actual walls behind all the Living Hubs and then replaster around each of the affected wall areas.

“The 28 grade II properties consisted of those who were able bodied and vulnerable or less mobile customers. For those who were vulnerable, we actually decorated all four walls in the area where we were doing the plastering works around the living hubs. And for those who were able bodies, we distributed B&Q vouchers for them to decorate those isolated wall areas.”

How did the residents find it all?

Christian Halford said: “I worked closely with the area manager and agreed on certain dates and times, to come in and install the units, for ease of the residents, and instead of going in twos, we’d go in singly. There was one or two COVID cases as we progressed, so that was managed effectively once the isolation period had expired.

“But in terms of the customers, obviously we needed to treat them more sensitively, so it was about working closely with Appello and working closely with the scheme officer to get the end result as sensitively as possible.”

What is the overall opinion of the project now it has finished?

Christian Halford said: “Overall the project was completed in about 9 weeks, and we reached handover in the third week in March.

“From an Orbit perspective, we were extremely happy. It was a huge challenge. It took 16 months and 7 design options to get the option that was acceptable to the planning departments. It was a huge relief to me to get the acceptance after so much work and weekly site meetings had been done.

“There was a lot of hard work that went into actually mobilizing the start of the project and managing to a successful conclusion, and we did that. We’ve done that between all of us working together as a team.

“The site delivery teams, in terms of access and standard of workmanship, have been excellent. The end product was excellent as well and now we’ve got a system which is fully digital compliance ahead of 2025 and it’s been very well received by our independent living team”

Graham Holliday commented: “Most of our scheme officers I talk to are really pleased with the system. It provides them with the onsite HQ data and gives them so much more information. I don’t get any negative comments around the system itself.

“Orbit’s overall project with Appello, and upgrading numerous developments sites has been a real success and it is fantastic to tick this one off the list as well.”

Christian Halford added: “Appello were fantastic, at all times we were able to contact them in terms of any queries and to get answers promptly to move things along. So, we’re very happy with the end outcome. It was very difficult for everybody involved. But working together, we got there in the end.”

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Appello employees talking in Chippenham demo suite