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James Crawley

James Crawley writes

Posted Thursday, August 5th 2021

Feature: Coming through the Covid crisis (Part two)

Despite full lockdowns amid a global pandemic, Group Facilities Manager Sam Morse looks back on how the Robins High Performance Centre was constructed.

This is part two of three in a series which looks back on how the club has battled through the Covid-19 crisis in the last 18 months, as we celebrate the return of supporters and relative normality.

Click to read Part 1: Lockdown in which we document the key moments from a rocky road for football and highlight how the club responded at a time of need.

Part 2: In with the new

Sam Morse was hard at work overseeing the Robins High Performance Centre build when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Like many others he was soon working from home, what with the project facing a minor delay, but his attentions were soon split between the HPC and bringing football back.

In fact, he played a major role in getting the game back underway as he helped to lay the foundations not just for City’s return to play, but teams across the divisions...

Sam Morse disinfecting the goalframe

Liaising with the Premier League

“I was in my little makeshift office at home when Andy Rolls asked me to review a document from the Premier League in April. There had been no guidance from the EFL at the time and I would say Bristol City pretty much wrote the guidance which went on to be published by the Football League.

“Rollsy was dealing with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Football League directly, so City spearheaded the guide and return of football in the Championship.

“I managed to get a hold of the guidance for football in La Liga and Serie A as those leagues had returned by this point, so I adapted those for the Premier League and the guidance was distributed.”

Becoming City’s Covid-19 Officer

“We established that clubs needed a Covid officer and I was appointed that role here around the end of April. All of April was about getting that documentation ready.

It was serious enough to make sure procedures were followed and once the processes were in place and understood – I remember various Zoom calls with management saying this is what we would be doing – we dealt with it knowing if there was a further outbreak then there would be no more football. It was scary to be in charge of something like that.

“It was testament to the club to go through the timeline of if at its worst, but still be able to operate. I was arriving at 6am to disinfect footballs and I was leaving at 8pm still disinfecting footballs.”

Reporting for day one: Kasey Palmer trains on his own at the old Failand training ground

The first days back

“I remember being on site with makeshift car parking signs, bays, creating one-way systems around the training ground. Those first three weeks back were all small groups, socially distanced sessions with no contact and those were long days.

“The testing soon started but before then you had players arriving wanting to high-five each other and I was there with my megaphone shouting at people: ‘Please be two metres apart at all times, please disinfect your hands’ so yes it was very strange.

“When we returned in May, the buy-in from everyone was fantastic. Scotty was helping me disinfect equipment, Gill Holt was out on the pitches disinfecting equipment, staff and players bought into what we needed to do and they understood why.

“We since tweaked the design of the HPC throughout the build to have multiple access points, so we have entrances and exits for the administration staff, the Academy and likewise the first-team staff so they don’t all have to arrive through the main front door. You can separate the building completely if needed, so there were learnings from Covid and having seen the Bristol Bears training ground too, we have been able to adapt this place.”

The Robins High Performance Centre construction, drone footage

How Covid-19 impacted the HPC

“We were in mid-January 2020 when we were looking at how Covid-19 was going to impact supplies, more-so how it would impact materials coming in from Europe and the far East. The glazing came from Ireland, the tiles and ceramics from Italy, the lift was German. There were concerns about delays over materials and there was never the thought it would have the impact it did have on the build in terms of workforce. There was never a consideration to delays at the time or crisis planning, it was work as normal.

“The construction site never shut down, even at times there would just be the site manager there, but the training ground did close for a while. In that time, I was still working on the Bristol Bears build.

“The pitch contractor furloughed everybody so you could see the country going into this problem and that’s when we started to think about what to do to keep things going.

“Beard maintained a presence on site, the project team remained as normal as possible and there was lots of pestering to make sure they were doing as much as they could. We agreed to a delay because of Covid of four weeks, which when you consider we had three national lockdowns that’s not an awful setback.

“We always committed to a Spring 2021 opening and we finally got in at the end of March, so there were a further eight weeks of delays but that’s also down to weather and the contractors.”

Proud

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. It is by far the biggest project I’ve worked on. I’ve done refurbishment of gyms and parts of project teams for new-build gyms but nothing to this scale. When construction started it felt like a lot of onuses on my shoulders.

“The biggest challenge was the moving itself, getting the staff on board and understanding their roles in the move. This was during a season and it’s how you transition from one site to the next overnight but we came through it.”

The finished product!

The Robins High Performance Centre - an overview

As Sam highlights, even with a global pandemic, the club was able to complete and move into its state-of-the-art training complex - the Robins High Performance Centre as it would become to be known.

North Somerset Council gave the green light in September 2018 and the club broke ground on the Failand site in January 2020.

Covid-19 and severe weather over the following ten months would impact the timeline of the build but strong progress was made and by October the main body of the building was clear to see.

In the next few months the interiors were added with the main offices, gym, atrium, meeting spaces, changing facilities and classrooms completed before first team’s move across in March 2021.

Located next to the previous current training pitches, the Robins High Performance Centre brings together the club’s Academy and senior team for the first time and includes a floodlit showpitch, capable of hosting the club’s Under-18 and Under-23 matches, two other full-size pitches and two further training areas.

The training ground was designed by architects KKA, built by locally-based Beard Construction with the pitches provided by MJ Abbott.

The Academy age groups mentioned above moved across in the summer of 2021.

The RHPC was officially opened by Owner Steve Lansdown and President Marina Dolman ahead of the pre-season fixture between City and Celtic in July

Read next:

The third and final part of this series will be published on Friday, featuring an interview with Support Liaison Officer Jerry Tocknell.

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