Two of Britain’s leading contractors are collaborating on ProCure23, the latest iteration of the NHS’ framework for major capital projects. Daniel Gayne talks to Willmott Dixon’s Anastasia Chrysafi and Mace’s Michele Wheeler about how the alliance will work and what it means for Tier One

Anastasia Chrysafi and Michele Wheeler

Willmott Dixon’s Anastasia Chrysafi and Mace’s Michele Wheeler outside the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear and Eastman Dental Hospitals in Holborn, central London

The advantages of collaboration have long been a talking point in construction. From deeper pools of talent to diversified supply chains, the benefits are numerous.

And, for those looking to reap them, the joint venture has often been the natural choice. But, in their pursuit of the latest major NHS construction framework, Mace and Willmott Dixon have taken a slightly different approach.

After two years of preparation together, the pair were jointly appointed by the Crown Commercial Service in March to all three lots on the ProCure23 (P23) under an agreement known as a framework alliance contract (FAC-1). This gives the two firms the opportunity to work together on £9bn worth of NHS capital projects over the next four years.

Unlike a traditional JV, however, where the jointly-owned third company enters a contract with the client, this agreement will see NHS trusts engaging in a single contract with the lead consortium partner in the relevant lot. For P23 lots one and two, which will cover projects valued at below £70m, that will be Willmott Dixon, while Mace is the lead consortium partner for lot three, covering projects valued above £70m.

Anastasia Chrysafi, national account manager for health at Willmott Dixon, and Michele Wheeler, healthcare director at Mace are the pair in charge of MWD Healthcare. Chrysafi, who joined Willmott Dixon in 2009, managing its place on ProCure21+, tells Building the collaboration was an organic development between two firms that have worked alongside one another for many years on working groups and frameworks such as the Southern Construction Framework.

“It was a natural progression into talking to each other about partnering for the ProCure23 framework,” she says, adding that the commonalities between the two – both privately owned, “consistently financially stable” and with “similar values and cultures” – are helping to make the partnership a good fit.

Because it’s not a legal entity, it’s built as a partnership – it’s built on both companies right from the top all the way through the organisation working together based on trust

Michele Wheeler, healthcare director, Mace

No matter which firm is the lead on a particular lot, both are expected to be involved in bidding and delivering projects. Chrysafi says this collaborative ethic is taken very seriously, with workers from each working for extended periods on joint teams and becoming bona fide colleagues.

“I quite often find myself in meetings where I’m the only person technically from Willmott Dixon and everyone else is Mace,” she says, “[but] I don’t feel that. We are just one team genuinely working in partnership.”

Working together means “learning from each other all the time”, Chrysafi says, including sharing innovative engineering and digital technology. With no detailed legal agreement to fall back on, sharing such valuable intellectual property underlines the importance of trust to the partnership.

“Because it’s not a legal entity, it’s built as a partnership – it’s built on both companies right from the top all the way through the organisation working together based on trust,” says Mace’s Wheeler, to which Chrysafi adds: “It was never about, you know, a legal contract that would just gather dust on a shelf… it was very much about the true relationships of partnership working.”

The collaborative approach yields significant benefits to the client, according to Wheeler, with the alliance able to draw from the skills bases and processes of both organisations, instead of offering a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Rather than offering a Mace solution or a Willmott Dixon solution, “the really important part of that is to make sure that we’re delivering really good healthcare facilities for patients and staff,” says Wheeler.

“We look at the projects as an independent, and what the client is trying to achieve, and then we look at how we are best to respond to that.”

Wheeler adds that the alliance had a natural compatibility with regards to suppliers and subcontractors, with Willmott Dixon bringing regional contacts and Mace providing big complex central London and home counties supply chains – although Chrysafi says the quality demanded by both firms meant the pool of suppliers was “not quite as different as you would think”.


Source: Peter Cook

The modular facade of the Mace-built Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear and Eastman Dental Hospitals in Fitzrovia, central London. This is the kind of prefabrication likely to be used for P23

Several projects have so far been procured through P23, the fourth generation of ProCure, and the Mace-WD partnership is working on a handful (though they remain tight-lipped about the details). The ProCure frameworks have always emphasised collaborative approaches to working and Wheeler, who joined Mace in June, was involved in its first iteration as a client, having previously worked for trusts and clinical commissioning groups within the NHS.

She says the framework has been “revolutionary”, changing the previously adversarial relationship. “Everyone was ‘I’m the client, you’re the builder, you’re the designer’,” she recalls, describing how she at first found the approach “a shock”, but quickly became “a complete advocate” of collaboration.

On her involvement in the first ProCure21 iteration, she said the joint trainings on the details of the contract were “really weird”, but that they ultimately meant that if a firm involved in the contract raised an early warning notice “everybody wasn’t surprised” and action was taken to secure supply.

“This was just a way of helping everyone to manage and manage efficiency, and that all came out of the Latham report […] trying to make the industry more effective.”

“If you’ve got a repeatable design and you do that 10 times, obviously, that’s going to create efficiencies […] it’s all about savings for the NHS”

Anastasia Chrysafi, national account manager for health, Willmott Dixon

As the first of the ProCure frameworks to be delivered in collaboration with the Crown Commercial Service, P23 will ensure that NHS capital works adopt the principles of the government’s Construction Playbook, which include a focus on sustainability and modern methods of construction. One element of this is the idea of repeatability in the design of healthcare infrastructure, a theme which the alliance is enthusiastic about.

Chrysafi says: “If you’ve got a repeatable design and you do that 10 times, obviously, that’s going to create efficiencies in how you build it. It’s going to create efficiencies with flooring and door sets and ceiling finishes, so that we have suppliers that we have preferential rates and extended warranties – it’s all about savings for the NHS.”

Wheeler, who began her career as a nurse in Portsmouth, emphasises the clinical benefits of standardisation, pointing to the therapy room at the Mace-built Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals near Warren Street, where this interview is being conducted. “From an operational point of view, if they were designing this room, for example, and this room was repeated over and over again, and you’ve got staff that are new, staff that are bank or agency – every room they go in they can find the same things,” she says.

“If you’re in an emergency situation, you want to come in and you want to know that the thermometers are over in that corner and the so-and-so is in that corner – it does make a difference.”

>> Also read: Projects: University College Hospital, London

Wheeler says there has been huge enthusiasm within both firms to work on P23 projects, something that she attributes to the important role hospitals play in society. “Especially with bigger hospitals, they are anchor institutions in the community,” she says.

“A hospital employs thousands of staff, whether it’s clinicians or backroom staff, or maintenance, delivery people. But also you think, look at these hospitals, where we are, there’s all sorts of small businesses that also set up to support the people that go into hospital and are working in a hospital […] You feel you’re not just doing a building but giving something back to a community, and it might be your community, or it might be your family going into that building.”

Both team leaders are positive about the prospects of the alliance and Chrysafi says the firms have spoken about extending the joint initiative to other sectors and frameworks. But they are cautious about heralding a brave new era of collaboration, emphasising the importance of making the partnership work on the project at hand.

“We haven’t made any decisions in that area, but it’s certainly an aspiration for us going forward,” says Chrysafi.