Sunday, 26 February 2012

Professor Ponytail Returns to the House atop Quarry Hill and Eats Out

Last week I returned to Quarry House, home to the Department of Health (DH). The last time I was there was some 5 years ago, and since then it seemed nothing much had changed with the building, although much has changed in the NHS. Way back in 1990 the DH occupied 23 buildings in London. In an attempt to rationalise and reduce costs, the then Conservative Government decided to relocate a large number of the staff employed by the DH to purpose built accommodation located outside of London and the South East. Originally, the move to the North West involved consideration of both the cities of Leeds and Manchester as possible locations. However, those affected by the move voted overwhelmingly on Leeds as the preferred choice.

The site chosen was Quarry Hill. For some 40 years, until its demolition Quarry Hill, was the largest social housing complex in the UK. It was a development noted for such radical and modern features as solid fuel ranges, electric lighting, a state-of-the-art refuse disposal system and communal facilities. The whole complex was demolished in 1978 because of its social problems and poor construction methods.

On the same site, in 1990, the construction of Quarry House started. It was completed, on time in 1993. Eventually some 2070 posts were relocated to Quarry House (which also provides accommodation for what is now called the Department of Work and Pensions (formally the Benefits Agency). 1630 people came from London to these posts and the remaining 440 from Southampton, Lytham- St Annes and Preston. The building cost £79.7m (1993 prices) and within this budget was some £543,000 which was spent on ensuring the building made a contribution to the arts. The money was spent on designing and creating inner courtyard gardens flanked by the buildings wrap around design. Although I was not permitted to take photos, the gardens still looked in good condition and it was possible to see where the money had been spent.

I was there with colleagues from the School of the Built Environment, to discuss the development of a research project that would seek to look at the health and well being benefits of new approaches to the provision of buildings designed for health services. The group we met with was headed by Peter Sellars, Deputy Director of Estates & Facilities Division at the DH. His team is responsible for ProCure21+ a National Framework which delivers faster, more streamlined procurement, design, planning, and construction, of publicly-funded healthcare schemes for the NHS. Its predecessor, ProCure21, successfully delivered over 420 community hospitals, primary care centres, mental health units and other acute services such as cardiac care and out-patient units. ProCure21+ continues to build upon this well deserved reputation within both the construction industry as well as the wider NHS for bringing about improvements in health outcomes through well designed buildings and services, but they lack the evidence to demonstrate the relationship between the two. We had a good meeting, and agreed a way forward in developing the basis for a possible project – it’s a case of watch this space.

Although I didn’t get to eat at Quarry House, it has been a busy week for eating out. Regular readers of this blog will know that I can be fussy about where I eat out, and why restaurants appeal or don’t. I was at the Twisted Med this week – didn’t appeal, other than the Eaton Mess meringue, which was feather light. And at one dinner this week, a friend remarked that her sister’s son, who I had met briefly at a recent 50th birthday celebration, is now studying at the University. Although not a student in our School he apparently reports seeing me quite often and he and his student group refer to me as Professor Ponytail. Unlike the optician who tested my eyes yesterday. He was convinced I was a musician. After hearing his life story and the bit where his wife, a Professor in European Politics had just divorced him, I didn’t have the heart to disabuse him of this thought, although he confessed that he hadn’t heard of the blues group the Silver Ponytails.

And last night, I was at a family 21st birthday party, which was made all the more enjoyable for the company of three charming young ladies, Charlotte, Amy and Sophie, who I said I would mention in today's blog. Happy Dancing!