Meet Len Halsey and Ron Reeves, the lift specialists who keep Canary Wharf’s 513 lifts and 99 escalators moving

This lift shaft serves the 30 storeys of 40 Bank Street
This lift shaft serves the 30 storeys of 40 Bank Street

Len Halsey and Ron Reeves amassed a total of 50 years’ experience with lifts manufacturer Otis before joining Canary Wharf Contractors. Since then, the pair have put in 22 years’ work at the wharf.

There’s plenty to do on the estate: it has 513 lifts, most of them high speed, and 99 escalators on active service.

Both say they were attracted by “the challenge”. Halsey, a lifts and escalator supervisor who put in 30 years with Otis and seven with CWC, explains: “The chance of working with top-class contractors, top-class consultants and top-class equipment was too good an opportunity to miss.

“It gives you an insight into the way other lift manufacturers work and see what they have to offer in terms of equipment and technical expertise.”

Reeves, a lifts and escalator manager who clocked up 20 years with Otis and is now in his 15th year with CWC, agrees.

“It is an exciting place to work for a lift engineer due to the high number of high-rise, high-speed lifts.”

These include the highest lifts in the UK – at One Canada Square, naturally – and the fastest office lifts in Europe: a back-stretching and knee-bending 8.3m/second at 25-30 Canada Square. It’s not all about performance, though: One Churchill Place smashed installation records by having lifts on the 33-storey tower up and running only two years after the first concrete was poured for the foundations.

Although proud of these achievements on height and speed, Halsey and Reeves also point to CWC’s tough lift specifications. These cover carrying capacity, performance times – including time spent by passengers waiting for a lift – and issues such as noise and vibration that can affect ride quality. Reeves says: “Our lift specifications are onerous, but achievable.”

The specifications are embedded into the lift consultant’s specifications before going out to tender. Like all trade packages at the wharf, a lot of work is done at pre-tender stage to ensure the lift contractors are fully informed of what is expected of them when they submit their bids. Equal importance is placed on ensuring the successful contractor has all bases covered before work starts on site.

We place a lot of emphasis on getting the goods lifts into service as early as possible

Len Halsey

The rigorous pre- and post-tendering procedures, combined with the knowledge gained on previous projects, came to fruition on One Churchill Place. The building will be used as a benchmark for all future CWC projects.

Halsey says: “Traditionally, the lift industry has had a poor reputation for performance on site but here, particularly on One Churchill Place, we tried to get the lift contractor on board at an early stage.”

To this end, CWC took a series of practical steps that would make make life simpler for lift contractor Schindler.

To speed preparation of the workshop drawings for the lift cabs, Schindler embedded a draughtsman in the architect’s office so that items such as the finishes could be agreed and signed off by the design teams in record time.

“All the architectural and cab drawings were approved within weeks,” says Halsey, thereby enabling an earlier than usual start on manufacturing the lift cabs.

Concrete core contractor PC Harrington was also asked to adopt measures that would allow an early start on lift installation.

Concrete upstands were cast next to the lift door apertures in the cores to prevent any water on the floor slabs from draining into the lift shafts and affecting the lift equipment.

Harrington’s contract also specified that the internal lift lobby floors should be constructed at the same time as the cores. Another of Harrington’s requirements was fitting temporary decking across the lift shafts every five or six floors. The decking had to be both waterproof and crash-proof to prevent any debris or water falling down the shafts.

The combination of these three measures enabled Schindler’s operatives to make an early start on fitting guide rails and door opening mechanisms for the lifts.

We look at handing over two lifts out of each group so we can get workers up and down much quicker

Ron Reeves

“Normally, lift contractors expect the shafts to be finished before they start work,” says Reeves. “On One Churchill Place, Schindler was able to put in platforms and get on with drilling and fixing the thousands and thousands of anchors for the guides and brackets.”

Reeves and Halsey also identified that early access to the lift motor rooms was a key factor in speeding the commissioning of the lifts.

Halsey says: “There is a lot of equipment that goes into a motor room. Therefore, we give the lift contractor a motor room and say ‘you are responsible for everything that goes into that room’. Everything from the lighting, steelwork, lifting beams, socket outlets and even down to builder’s works and decorating. It means the lift contractor is not reliant on someone else and is master of his own destiny.”

Another key ingredient, says Reeves, is having a good manager handling the logistics. “If you haven’t got someone managing that process, the materials get lost or are all over the place and the guys are unproductive.”

Having the lifts running before the building is completed has a beneficial effect on the progress of other trades. Reeves says: “We look at handing over, say, two lifts out of each lift group so that we can get workers up and down much quicker than if they were using the builders’ hoists, which run a lot slower.

It also means we can take down the hoists earlier and close up the building quicker where gaps have been left in the cladding for hoist access.”

Halsey adds: “We also place a lot of emphasis on getting the goods lifts into service as early as possible. These are used to move materials and tools for the trade contractors and are a much faster means of transport then the hoists.”

Even after the buildings have been handed over to tenants, Reeves still has a job to do because Canary Wharf Management looks after maintenance for most of the estate’s lifts and escalators. Reeves says: “It’s a 24-hour a day, every day of the year, job.”