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The ‘new normal’ for our grant-aided projects

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29th July 2020

Rebecca Leary

The ‘new normal.’ It’s a phrase that’s been hard to avoid during the summer of 2020. Open any newspaper or turn on the TV and chances are you’ll hear someone talking about it. But what exactly might this ‘new normal’ look like, on the site of one of Edinburgh World Heritage’s conservation projects?

With the lockdown tentatively easing and construction sites reopening from last month, Edinburgh World Heritage caught up with one of the conservation projects that have returned to work on site, to hear about what normal means on the ground (or in this case, up the scaffold).

“It was difficult knowing just what was suitable – it’s very easy to put into print the need for social distancing but not so easy checking that it is possible and/or practical.” – Edinburgh-based architect.

The construction industry is on a six-step phased approach to reopening under the Restart Plan with the first three phases currently in place (planning, pre-start site preparations and soft start). In addition to the rigorous risk assessments and safety checks that are already a part of any safe construction site, employers must now:

  • Carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in line with Scottish Government advice. If a risk is identified, the first procedure is to eliminate it with social distancing.
  • If that is not possible, rearranging tasks or engineering a protective barrier is advisable.
  • The number of people on site at any one time must be reduced.
  • For tasks that solely rely on administrative controls, specialist PPE should be provided to protect workers from infection.

One conservation funding programme project, the tenement at 195-197 Canongate, was nearing completion when lockdown began. When work was permitted to continue on site some of the measures taken to ensure everyone’s safety included providing PPE for workers and regularly sanitising tools. The number of people permitted on-site was reduced, with, for example, one person carrying out the pointing to leadwork on the front roof and another assisting, which ensured social distancing could be maintained. However, this did mean that the task 25% longer to complete.

From left to right: detail of the Cordiner’s symbol on 195-197 Canongate and the pedimented cartouche, also featuring the cordiner’s symbol, on 183-187 Canongate.

Similarly, when the final coat of render was applied to the rear elevation, this was done by one person only, with another at ground level providing assistance. This work also took longer to complete. Once work was complete on site, the team then faced the challenge of taking down the scaffold in a socially distanced way. The risk of the transfer of germs was increased due to the nature of the task of dismantling boards and poles. Again, PPE was necessary, with regular sanitising of gloves. Three operatives were working at different levels of the scaffold to minimise contact. As they reached lower levels one operative stood back to ensure that their colleagues could maintain their distance.

Image of the scaffolding at 195-197 Canongate partially removed.

We have no way of knowing how long these types of measures will be required, but the safety and security of our construction sites are a key concern for everyone involved. The rate at which the teams working on site have been able to adapt is impressive, and Edinburgh World Heritage is committed to supporting our conservation funded projects as we all try to negotiate this ‘new normal’, encouraging business as usual and helping the economy to get back on its feet.


Edinburgh World Heritage’s Conservation Funding Programme is funded by Historic Environment Scotland. Find out more about the funding and advice we offer.

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