Manchester Town Hall is the heart of the city. It is a place where civic receptions are hosted, visitors are welcomed, and business is facilitated. Opened in 1877, the fabric of this Grade I listed landmark was desperately in need of restoration, while the interiors needed to be brought up to modern access and safety standards.

manchester town hall

WysePower uses WyseBase as a supporting act for the Manchester Town Hall refurbishment

In January 2020, a project to restore the historic building was given the green light. Much-needed works included structural, roof, stonework and drainage repairs alongside restoration of some of the building’s historic features, including its mosaic flooring and stained glass windows. Major upgrades were also needed to the building’s electrics, plumbing, heating, ventilation and lifts. To enable the works to go ahead, the Town Hall was closed to the public and its staff decanted.

WysePower commenced work on the project in February 2020. It was appointed by main contractor Lendlease to provide temporary lighting, power, water, security monitoring and fire alarm services for the £328.3 million restoration.

A major challenge was to provide the temporary services without damage to the listed building; a requirement that meant WysePower was unable to drill walls, ceilings or floors, or even to attach temporary fixings to these. Nor could cables be placed on the floor because that would create a trip hazard. WysePower’s solution was to develop an innovative, freestanding cable support using its WyseBase system.

The WysePower solution

WyseBase is WysePower’s carbon neutral, cost effective alternative to traditional concrete foundations for site cabins. The system uses stackable, square base sections made from 100% recycled and recyclable plastics, which are used to create a series of structural columns onto which a cabin can be placed.

For the Town Hall project, WysePower developed a version of the base with a circular sleeve cast in centre, to hold a scaffold pole upright. The pole acts as a freestanding post onto which light fittings can be attached along with supports for electrical and lighting cables. It can even act as a mount for wireless fire alarm call points, health and safety signage and for temporary WiFi extenders too.

Positioning the bases at regular intervals enables the cables to span unsupported between bases. A big advantage of this solution is that the freestanding bases can easily be repositioned to facilitate work, such as refurbishment of the mosaic floor, or to re-route a cable.

Lighting had to be provided in every room of the building. Lendlease specified a minimum interior light level that had to be achieved. However, prior to being awarded the contract, WysePower had already demonstrated the effectiveness of its lighting solution in meeting this requirement by assembling a mock-up in an empty town hall room.

WyseBase supports the temporary lighting cables which, in turn, supply over 3000 LED lights. The lighting cable routes were initially proposed using floor plans. WysePower then walked the routes to check the feasibility of the proposal before agreeing the route with the construction team, architect and Manchester City Council’s representative.

A similar process was adopted for the electrical cable distribution. WysePower engaged with ENWL, the local District Network Operator (DNO), in March 2019 to put a temporary substation on Albert Square. An application was put in for 1MVA and coordinated between WysePower, Lendlease, MCC and ENWL to ensure it was completed and available in line with the construction programme.

Power was delivered, via the DNO’s transformer, to WysePower’s two primary distribution panels. From here, cables supply power to the welfare facility, external lighting, CCTV system and the charging points for the battery-operated diggers, wheelbarrows and dumper trucks. It even had to provide a temporary supply to the town hall clock.

Providing temporary electric site services

Electrical supplies are sub-divided into essential and non-essential. Essential supplies include lighting for escape routes, heating and equipment charging. Non-essential supplies are turned off out of hours and includes room lighting and back of house equipment.

Cables from the main distribution boards feed local distribution boards which, in turn, supply over 200 transformers. The council’s original plan had been to use the building’s internal courtyards as a space to house the local distribution panels. However, this had to be abandoned following a decision to temporarily remove the cobblestones from the courtyards to install new drainage. In response, WysePower had to proactively coordinate alternative locations for the panels to subsequently minimise their impact on the works.

Improving fire safety

Under the restoration, the building’s fire alarm system was being replaced. To ensure the building and its occupants were protected during the works, WysePower installed a temporary wireless fire alarm system, which had an equivalent performance to the one it was replacing.

In addition to the manually activated break-glass call points attached to the WyseBase stands, the L1 system includes automatic smoke and heat detectors. Where these are located in the state rooms and the great hall, the detectors are fitted to weighted tripods to position them for optimal coverage.

There was even a requirement for a fire evacuation alarm on the building’s external scaffolding. WysePower took advantage of the system’s Scaff Alarm feature to add passive infrared (PIR) sensors so that the fire alarm system can double as an intruder alarm. The PIR is programmed to activate at 6pm and deactivate in the morning. If it detects a presence, it will sound an alarm and inform security using via an auto-dial facility. Manchester Fire Services also inspected the system and confirm it met their requirements.

Temporary water supplies

WysePower also supplied the water to the site. The supply includes a Waterguard unit fitted to the incoming main. The unit is activated out of hours to turn off the water should it detect usage outside of its programmed values.

The work continues

As restoration work is progressing, WysePower is working closely with Lendlease to adapt the temporary services in line with the programme to ensure both lighting and power are always available in the spaces where work is due to take place.

The complex nature of the project and WysePower’s commitment to it meant that it has a full-time supervisor on site who can attend the daily planning and coordination meetings.

The project is due to complete in 2024, so that the newly restored Town Hall can once again host civic receptions and welcome visitors.