This Remembrance Day, it’s important for us to think about not just those who have been lost protecting us – but those who continue to do so, day-to-day.
Our troops are expected to train up and fight wars for us – they do what we can’t and don’t want to do! And it’s not just wars they’re fighting – they’re on the home front, providing disaster relief. This year, as COVID-19 struck, they put themselves in harm’s way to create safe and accessible testing facilities for civilians.
And yet, some of them are still living in poor conditions across an aging military estate. We’re dedicated to supporting change in this area and providing the best living experience possible for the people who keep us safe.
Estate optimisation is the largest programme of military estate management in a generation, looking into the condition of army barracks, estates and living quarters and ensuring they are fit for purpose and ready for the future. This started in 2010 with the commitment to return all 20,000 British troops from Germany. Subsequently, the publication of the Army 2020 plan set out the future structure of the army estate in the UK.
The Base Optimisation Programme, where we worked closely with industry colleagues at WYG, Mott MacDonald, URS (now AECOM) and Defence Infrastructure Organisation to develop a tool to assess the capacity and condition of the regular and volunteer estate across the UK. This complex piece of work was developed and delivered to provide a detailed understanding of the Defence footprint nationwide and fed into several other optimisation programmes, including the Regular Army Basing Plan and Footprint Strategy leading us to 2020 and the Defence Estate Optimisation Programme.
We’re now looking at existing estates, and how they can be best utilised for those that need them. For example, we’re reviewing paring and sharing principles across live, work and train assets to support the consolidation of capabilities into key areas – which is an important step for several reasons.
Environmentally, we’re mindful of net-zero carbon targets across the estate that will in turn optimise running costs. The reason these buildings are still standing is not just because they are well built, but mainly down to the military being prepared to make do, mend and repair – but because of their age, many of them have poor or no insulation, and aging heating systems.
Addressing these issues is a balance between refurbishing old systems that are not fit for purpose, or producing new facilities that are more efficient to run, against the whole-life cost of the facility.
Additionally, we need to consider the mental health of the troops. One cause of mental health issues can be isolation – to address this the focus is on provision of centralised accommodation, with central hubs on-site for eating and socialising, along with communal facilities within the single living accommodation. This helps to encourage camaraderie, as well as offering an opportunity for peers to notice problems early.
There is so much to be considered when the site you are creating will be the central space for living, working and training. This is where troops spend the majority of their time and it needs to be a useful and useable space that encourages mental wellbeing. This is even more difficult when we are working with historic estates, each of which comes with its own challenges and quirks to overcome. But for those who keep us safe, it is certainly the least we can do.