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Interview – Fred Emden

At the end of October, we interviewed Fred Emden, RCOG Interim CEO, about his role as Senior Responsible Officer for the Estates Programme. Fred has been working at the College for 7 years.

What does your role as Senior Responsible Officer for the Estates Programme involve?

A few years ago, the RCOG Council asked me to look at extending the lease at Sussex Place. After investigating it became clear that this would not be financially viable, due to changes in how the freeholder, The Crown Estate, needed to operate. However, there was an opportunity to release capital by surrendering the lease for a capital sum. The negotiation concluded with RCOG achieving sufficient funds to purchase a freehold, which was the key goal. My next job was to search for the RCOG’s new home. We looked at about 30 different properties before buying Union Street.

Since then, my role has involved creating a design team and overseeing the design development.

There have been legal issues to manage, negotiations with neighbours and the process of gaining planning consent. I have recently been overseeing the appointment of contractors. The model we have used has been to lock down contracts for some of the specialist design elements (the helical staircase, the atrium itself and the mechanical & electrical services), in advance of the main contract. My job is to act as an umbrella over all of the individual components and make sure that our Project Manager is keeping us all on schedule. This is crucial to ensure the delivery of the building back from the contractors to the deadline of December 2019.

 

What are some of the challenges you have experienced along the way?

One challenge is coordinating the design team. They are all experts in their specialty but, understandably, they each have their own drivers which sometimes pull them in slightly different directions. While any good architect aims to design the most beautiful and functional building they can, reflecting their creative strengths, the quantity surveyor will be worrying about not overspending on this detail or that, to meet strict budgets. Making sure that the team remains a team isn’t always easy, but they are in very good shape.

Another challenge is managing a finite budget. Inevitably we have to make tough decisions as we cannot afford every good idea we come up with. It’s funny, being involved in creating this thing, steering the design, and it becomes incredibly important to you – emotionally as well as intellectually. That said, I am delighted with what we are going to be able to deliver within the budget we will have.

 

What have you most enjoyed about your role?

It’s been about five years since the RCOG Council asked me to start looking at options, a long journey. Not everyone could see the vision initially, and it took some very tough choices to walk away from Sussex Place. So I have had to persuade people to trust the idea that the difficult decision was the right decision and to take a leap of faith. We will have a new home, that we own, and it will be beautiful. So the most enjoyable aspect for me is that this belief is now crystallising into something very tangible.

 

What is the next stage for the Estates Project?

Things will move into a different phase quite soon. We are finalising the main contract, so there is really only a matter of a few weeks where there is any flexibility left on the design. Then it is locked and, at that point, the job will become one of overseeing the delivery, seeing these ideas take physical shape.

 

What are some of the biggest benefits you see for the College in moving to a new home?

There are 2 key benefits for us, one will be very apparent, one slightly more hidden.

The design of Union Street, in comparison to Sussex Place, is such that we will work in a much more open way with each other, encountering each other much more, just because of the layout. I also hope that we will share the building with other strategic partners in women’s health. This has such potential for much greater collaboration and communication between us all.

The quiet benefit, and a real driver for me from the beginning, is that Union Street, unlike Sussex Place, is a very substantial asset owned by the College. I always thought that even though I could not predict what the College would need as its home in 20 or 50 years, to best serve women’s health, it would likely not be a huge building in central London. What we have in this freehold is the latent flexibility to change how we operate, at some point in the future, as the world around us changes.