Regulars at the Pilot inn, north Greenwich, have grown accustomed to bumping into Millennium Dome project director Bernard Ainsworth. It is here he finds refuge from the travails of running Britain’s most controversial, high-profile construction job.

As project director for joint-venture contractor McAlpine Laing, Ainsworth is responsible for delivering the £800m dome in time for its all-important new year’s eve opening extravaganza. Like most top-flight managers, he has his own formula for combating the stresses involved in meeting deadlines. He believes the best way to cope is to sit down and chat about problems over a drink. “The Pilot is a well-used pub on the peninsula and, in a way, it’s the secret of the dome’s success,” he says.

Ainsworth believes the local has been central to fostering team spirit on the project – and preserving his sanity. He says it is a place where everyone involved in the dome, from client representative David Trench to ground workers, can enjoy a pint and socialise together. “I often chat there in the evenings to subbies and workers and I find it helps relieve pressure on the project. Nearly everyone is on first-name terms with each other and the landlord.”

Despite being at the centre of the most talked-about construction project in the country, Ainsworth insists he has not felt any more pressure than he usually does when running a large construction project. “In some ways, there’s been less pressure,” he says. “There’s been a willingness on the part of the contractors to share problems, and I think that’s partly because of the number of social activities we’ve organised at places like The Pilot.”

Ainsworth thinks that media coverage of the project also helped to make his job easier. “Adverse newspaper coverage caused the job to get a protective sheet. It wasn’t nice waking up in the morning and finding your project on the front pages, but whenever the project was attacked from outside, it pushed everyone involved closer together. There have been spats, but adverse press coverage forced us all to lean on one another to prove it wrong.”

As laid back as Ainsworth is, he appreciates that his involvement on such a high-profile project has affected his family life. His home is in Yorkshire with his wife Rosemary and two teenage children, and over the three years, he has commuted there from London as often as possible. ”It has been a bit unfair on my wife Rosemary,” he concedes. “She’s been very supportive. Building the dome while commuting to Yorkshire at weekends hasn’t been easy.”

Bernard Ainsworth

How much weight have you lost during the project? I haven’t. I’ve put it on instead. I’m afraid it stems from having a hostelry so close to site. Low point? The beginning, when we thought the new government wouldn’t give the scheme the go-ahead. High point? Erection of the first mast; the first sign that we were in business. Where will you spend the millennium? I hope to be at the dome with my family, but I also intend to visit it later when it’s alive with 30 000 people.