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Offsite Solutions Maintains Strong Performance

In this interview, James Stephens, Managing Director, looks at the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic on Offsite Solutions.

What percentage of Offsite Solutions' factories were open during peak lockdown?

We have four factories in Somerset and all remained open throughout the lockdown at slightly reduced capacity. Our operations span around 200,000sqft and include facilities for GRP and steel-framed pod manufacturing, steel base frame fabrication and a unit for fitting out, testing and despatch.

During the lockdown we had a number of projects going through the factory, manufacturing both steel-framed and GRP pods for hotels, student accommodation, build-to-rent schemes and a care home project.

How have operating procedures changed to meet social distancing requirements?

The key changes were to provide more space between pods so there were fewer units on each production line and only one person is permitted to work in a pod at a time. The exception to that is the fitting of cabinets or shower screens. This work requires two people so they are required to wear PPE.

We installed hand wash stations to all the main points of entry to each factory and appointed staff to monitor hand washing to ensure hygiene processes were adhered to. We also put hand sanitising units on every production line and increased the cleaning regime.

We commissioned a comprehensive Covid-19 Compliance Audit to independently assess our bathroom and utility pod manufacturing facilities in Highbridge and the new procedures we had introduced. This report confirmed that we had exceeded the standards required.

We fulfilled every customer requirement for pod deliveries throughout the lockdown. This was relatively easy to do because we use production line processes for bathroom construction that are far more controllable in a factory than on site.

We generally have one person working on a pod at any one time although it is possible to fit out the inside of a bathroom while another member of our team is installing plumbing or electrics externally and still maintain 2m social distancing. This would not be possible on site where work on bathrooms is much more confined. The use of offsite construction for bathrooms completely de-risks this element of the build and reduces time on site by up to 12 weeks.

How are social distancing requirements met for pod deliveries to site?

We are supply only so site work had no impact for us, but it is easy for the contractor to meet social distancing requirements for pod installation. Just two operatives are needed either side of the pod to connect the lifting frame and to guide it to its location.

Where sites remained open, some of our clients found it productive to accelerate their pod deliveries during the lockdown. The process of delivering and positioning pods onto the relevant floor plate were risk assessed and social distancing requirements were found to be relatively easy to achieve. With reduced numbers of trades on site at this time, this solution allowed pods to be sited much more quickly.

How are you finding enquiries and orders since the lockdown?

We actually achieved a record level of enquiries and quotations in April. We continue to see a big increase in enquiries for build-to-rent projects and for enhanced floorless GRP pods for that sector. Scotland is also proving very buoyant for pods for build-to-rent and we are starting our first project in Ireland shortly – a student accommodation scheme.

A number of projects have shifted from market sale to affordable housing which could be an early indication of a wider trend.

We are at the early stages on a number of other new projects including hotels and build-to-rent – and have seen a significant increase in the past year in the number of pods fitted with a bath rather than a shower cubicle. We are informed by clients that apartments and studios with bathrooms rather than shower rooms can give developers and investors additional flexibility, for example if a project moves from rent to professionals, to market sale to attract families.


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