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Delivering first class support

SELECT membership has been a boost to the Facilities Management team at St Andrews’ most famous institution as they deal with one of their busiest times in memory

George, centre, with his team of electricians and SELECT’s Diane Hales, left, and Diane Hales, Yvonne Wilson right

When golfing legend Jack Nicklaus received his honorary citizen award at St Andrews in July in recognition of his achievements and outstanding service to the sport, the town’s Younger Hall was packed with other golf legends, civic dignitaries, fans and the world’s media. Behind the scenes, but doing a vital job to make the event a success, were the five electricians in the University of St Andrews Facilities Management Trades team who were on 24/7 standby that week to ensure the smooth running of the celebration in the university’s main concert venue on North Street.

“We need to ensure that all the buildings are in good order and all the services within them work as they should do so that the university’s 3,500 staff can get on with their work and that our 10,000 students can live and study in peace”

This year has been exceptionally busy for the Facilities Management Trades team. In addition to maintaining the 167 buildings that make up the historic university’s estate, they also had to help manage the technical aspects of running three sets of graduation events and celebratory balls over the last few weeks of the academic term and then prepare for the demands of hosting up to 6,000 visitors who had booked university accommodation to enjoy the 150th Open at St Andrews Old Course.

George Simpson, Trades Manager at the university’s Facilities Management team, explained why they had been so busy: “Most people would think that the end of the academic year in June is a time for our team to relax as the students leave for the summer, but this year we had to help with the organisation of three graduation ceremonies: one for this year’s graduates and another two other for the students who missed out on their events over the past two years because of COVID-19. We had to make sure all the hall facilities were in good working order before the events and also provide an electrician on standby in case of any eventualities. We also supplied outside lighting rigs for the student graduation balls, which also needed to be regularly checked by the team.

“And then when all that was finished we were straight into the Open for nine days, providing support for events held in the university buildings, such as the Jack Nicklaus ceremony, as well as ensuring all the facilities in the accommodation blocks were in good working order for the visitors to enjoy their stay in St Andrews for the golf. It was a busy time for us!”

Also working behind the scenes was SELECT, as the University of St Andrews has become the latest higher education establishment to become a Member of the association and to benefit from our support services for its electrical staff and apprentices.

“We had to make sure all the hall facilities were in good working order before the events and also provide an electrician on standby in case of any eventualities”

George was keen for the university to join SELECT as a result of his time as Regional Works Manager at Stirling Castle, when he worked for Historic Environment Scotland (HES) from 2000 to 2018.

He explained his role and why the SELECT membership will benefit his team at St Andrews.

“As you’d imagine, Facilities Management is responsible for the management and the operational delivery of the maintenance strategy for the university’s building portfolio and to ensure it meets the needs of our customers, which are the teachers and admin staff of the university and, of course, the students. We need to ensure that all the buildings are in good order and all the services within them work as they should do so that the university’s 3,500 staff can get on with their work and that our 10,000 students can live and study in peace. In the end, it’s all about providing a great student experience at St Andrews.

“The estate is continually growing so there is an increasing number of buildings that we have to maintain, which gives us challenges in how we prioritise our maintenance work. Obviously, emergency breakdowns and health and safety issues are given priority but, increasingly, our role is also to ensure that we make enhancements to help reduce our carbon footprint and increase our energy efficiency throughout the estate.”

George oversees a team of 60, which is organised into specialist trade-specific teams including plumbing and heating, joinery, painting, slating and roofing, stores, logistics (drivers) and a biomass plant team to maintain the facility at Eden Campus.

The electrical team comprises includes Team Leader Colin McKay who overseas the work of five electricians and two apprentices. His team is assisted by a maintenance support team for non-electrical work such as serving air handling units etc.

However, looking after the university’s estate is quite a challenge as its 167 buildings are spread over a two-mile radius throughout the town and beyond, and some of these buildings date back to the medieval period, as the university was founded in 1413.

Dealing sympathetically with historic and listed buildings is something that George knows all about from his 18 years at HES, and particularly working at the iconic Stirling Castle. With an apprenticeship in bricklaying – gained at his father’s building company in Forfar – he joined HES in 2000 as a stonemason but over time took on more management roles. He explained: “It was when I got promoted to Planning Resources Manager at Stirling Castle that I really got an insight in the electrical side of facilities management and planning works. In this role, I managed all the electrical planned preventive maintenance and organised and oversaw the electrical and mechanical contracts. It’s here that I came to appreciate the challenges of working on a listed building. You cannot just cut cable routes where you want as you need consent for almost everything you do if it affects the fabric of the building.”

George eventually became Regional Works Manager for Stirling Castle, having worked on some high-profile restoration projects such as the decade-long restoration of James V’s Palace and the Stanley Mills Bell Mill Projects as the Project Clerk of Works. It was a busy time and it was during this period that he applied for membership of SELECT to provide valuable support for his electrical team.

“SELECT’s training provision is also important for us as I am keen to give some electrical awareness training to our maintenance support team and the janitors”

He said: “We really appreciated the 24/7 technical back-up offered by SELECT and the wide range of training available, and the forums were also good where we could sit down with other organisations and exchange information and ideas. So, when I joined St Andrews in 2018 I was keen that the university join SELECT too as I knew the helpline was going to be very useful for our electricians, particularly those on call one week out of five; having someone available to answer any queries or technical questions out of office hours will be invaluable.

The staff maintain all older elements at the historic university

“SELECT’s training provision is also important for us as I am keen to give some electrical awareness training to our maintenance support team and the janitors so they are aware of the risks. This training will not only help them with their jobs, such as conducting fire alarm inspections and emergency light testing, but will contribute to keeping them safe.

“The university has a programme of installing electric vehicle charging points so we are also interested in training our electricians in the maintenance of the charging units too.”

The university became a SELECT member in March after its successful assessment of replacement lights at the Gatty Marine Laboratory – home of the Scottish Oceans Institute – and the installation of two radial circuits that had been installed for supplying command sockets at the Edgecliffe Building.

The university’s Facilities Management Trades team also runs a successful apprenticeship programme, which has trained 44 young people since it was established in 2007 by Helen Mackie, the Assistant Director of Facilities Management, who George reports to. He added: “Today we have 18 apprentices going through the programme, two of whom are in the electrical team, and we always work with the university’s Capital Projects team to see if we can get involved in some of the refurbishments to give our apprentices some good experience of live projects. For example, last year we had apprentices on work placements at the Younger Hall refurbishment, a large capital project. We also refurbished the warden’s flat in the John Burnet Hall student accommodation block which involved a complete rewire. We reconfigured the flat, installed a new kitchen and bathroom which was valuable training for our apprentices.”

In addition to maintaining the fabric of the university estate, the Trades team is also involved in running a number of projects that contribute to the university’s net zero ambitions. The electrical team, working alongside their Electrical Engineer Robert Watson from the Technical Team, has a programme of transitioning all the lighting throughout the teaching spaces and accommodation blocks to LED units to reduce energy consumption, and they have also been trialling smart controls in some of the accommodation blocks so that lights can be turned off automatically when sensors detect that someone is in the room or not, and to control heating. They have also changed the power source of the two outside lighting rigs used for outdoor events from diesel engines to batteries.

Now that a new biomass boiler has been commissioned at the Eden Campus, the Trades team has been expanded to include biomass specialists to run and maintain the facilities, which will make a significant contribution to reducing energy consumption over the estate.

The grand setting makes for an inspiring place to work

George is also looking at ways his team can reduce its carbon footprint by using suppliers that can show sustainable credentials for their products.

The university’s drive to net zero means the new and refurbished buildings that are being handed over to Estates are fitted out with increasingly technologically advanced energy efficiency systems. That has required the Trade teams to familiarise themselves with the new technologies and to upgrade their skills and training, and that’s why George believes SELECT membership will pay dividends for his teams.

He added: “It’s early days but I was really happy with the support SELECT gave us when I was working for HES. I’m looking forward to working with SELECT to help support the training programmes for my staff and, in the near future, attending some of the forums to benefit from hearing what is happening in the sector.”

“I’m looking forward to working with SELECT to help support the training programmes for my staff and, in the near future, attending some of the forums to benefit from hearing what is happening in the sector”


Eden Campus

The Facilities Management Trades team is based in an office on the Eden Campus located three miles north-west of St Andrews, which is a hub where the university works with private companies to conduct innovative research into new energy technologies, such as batteries, hydrogen-based systems and conversion of CO2 into fuels.

It’s also a ‘living laboratory’ to showcase how energy saving technologies can be integrated into buildings, and since opening in 2018 the Eden Campus has reduced the university’s carbon footprint by 20 per cent through solar panels and integrating a biomass boiler.

The biomass boiler has recently been commissioned and its operation and maintenance falls under George’s Trades team, consisting of specialised biomass boiler specialists. Eden Campus currently heats 400 student rooms and has the capacity of heating an additional 6,000 homes for local residences. That equals a third of St Andrews’ student and local residences.


The Sales Verdict

As one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world, the University of St Andrews joins the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University as higher education Members of SELECT.

Yvonne Wilson, SELECT Specifier & Client Relations Manager, was delighted to welcome the university as Members in March this year. She said: “St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland so it’s brilliant to have them on board. I know that our Technical Helpline is going to be a great benefit to their electricians, particularly as they are often working on historic buildings.”

George Simpson, Trades Manager for the University of St Andrews’ Facilities Management team, had previously benefited from SELECT membership in his role as Regional Works Manager at Stirling Castle for Historic Environment Scotland. But he was not initially sure how SELECT could support his Electrical Trades team at the university. That was until Yvonne set up a meeting with Alan Carracher, Building Services Engineer at the University of Edinburgh, which has been a Member since 2019.

She said: “Alan discussed how important the technical support we provide is to his team and how our training represents real value for money. Alan also spoke about how invaluable the notifications of upcoming changes to regulations were to him in his role and being able to provide input into amendments via the SELECT Electrotechnical Committee was an important way to keep on top of changes in the industry. This discussion was able to show George the real benefits of SELECT membership to his team and we’ve already discussed running training programmes for electric vehicles and the electrical awareness courses for his non-electrical staff. Now Diane Hales will be supporting George with services as his SELECT Membership Representative.”

SELECT will be reaching out to more universities to encourage membership through their attendance and exhibition at the 50th annual conference of the Association of University Engineers in Stirling in September.


Did you know?

  • The University of St Andrews was founded in 1413. It is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world

  • The university’s motto is ‘Ever to Excel’

  • There are 10,424 students* at St Andrews: 8,260 undergraduates and 2,164 postgraduates

  • Students come from more than 130 countries*

  • The University was named top university in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022

  • Every year, hundreds of first-year students, dressed in fancy dress costumes, gather in St Salvator’s Quad for the annual Raisin Monday foam fight

  • The PH initials set into cobblestones outside the Sallies Quad mark the spot where Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake in 1582

  • According to tradition, any student who steps on the PH will be cursed to fail their degree

* first semester of the academic year 2021 to 2022


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