Hive of activity: Scaffolding Manchester Town Hall

With a tight, city-centre location and listed status to deal with, scaffolding Manchester Town Hall has thrown up some unique challenges

Scheme: Our Town Hall (Manchester Town Hall restoration and refurbishment)
Client: Manchester City Council
Main contractor: Lendlease Construction (Europe) Ltd
Scaffolding contractor: Lyndon SGB
Hoist contractor: Taylor’s Hoists
Overall construction contract value: £347m
Construction start date: March 2020
Construction completion: June 2024

Manchester Town Hall, a Grade I-listed building in the heart of the city, is undergoing a significant renovation that will see it transformed into a new cultural and events venue. The town hall was completed in 1877 and the building has been used for various purposes over the years, including as a library and a court. But it has fallen into disrepair in recent years and requires significant restoration.

The Our Town Hall (OTH) project will see the restoration of the building’s historic features, such as the grand entrance hall, the Council Chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour, while the Great Hall’s 12 Manchester Murals by Ford Madox Brown and iconic bee mosaic are being protected. New facilities will include a cafe, bar and a rooftop terrace, offering a place to relax and enjoy views of the city. The building will also be equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual and lighting systems, making it suitable for a wide range of events, from conferences to concerts.

“It’s the first time we’ve encountered a logistics challenge like this”

Craig Parry, Lyndon SBG

Lyndon SGB provided more than 200 scaffold structures for OTH with a total combined weight of about 3,700 tonnes – independents, birdcages, beam sections, staircases, chimney scaffolds and temporary roofing – under a subcontract from project lead Lendlease. In addition, the OTH job requires some 22,000 square metres of access platforms and multiple combined scaffold staircases with a total height of 450 metres.

“It’s the biggest scaffolding project in the UK that I’m aware of,” says Lyndon SGB contracts manager Craig Parry. According to Lyndon SGB’s website, more than 50 of its scaffolders have been involved in erecting the structures. Covering the facade of the building is a full-perimeter independent access scaffold with two bays. The inner bay is a working platform; on the outer bay, all the vertical ledger bracing is fitted to allow the inner working bay to be braceless. This offers “unrestricted access for all trades to work safely”, the scaffolding provider notes.

Heritage issues

Because of the listed status of the town hall, Lyndon SBG was faced with a slightly tricky situation when installing its temporary works. “We’ve tried not to touch the building at all with the scaffolding,” says Parry. “Normally we’d install a lot of transoms to make the scaffolding nice and strong, but on a building like this that’s a no-no.” He adds: “For scaffolding ties around the building, we’ve had to pinpoint the exact mark, the exact point, where we wanted to drill a hole. And that had to go to [English] Heritage for approval every time.” Birdcage scaffolds in the three inner courtyards allow access to all elevations and a fully decked 25-metre-high platform. Lyndon SGB also provided scaffolding for the main clock tower overlooking Albert Square.

Parry tells Construction News that Lyndon SGB had to approach the project in a unique way. “It’s the first time we’ve encountered a logistics challenge like this. We’re in the middle of Manchester so there’s not a lot of room all around the site, so we can’t just store materials on any elevation we work on,” he says. “Everything basically comes into one spot and then we’ve got to move it around, pretty much manually everywhere. It’s a mammoth task but a one-off.”

Another major task was erecting more than 10,000 square metres of temporary roofing to protect the site from bad weather. Here, Lyndon SGB took steps to minimise working at height, using a 300-tonne crane to lift the roof up in sections from ground level. “We wanted people to be working on the [roof] beams as little as possible,” Parry says.

He adds that Lyndon SGB was able to leverage expertise and resources from its parent company BrandSafway. The complex scaffolding works and intricate temporary roof were designed in-house using designers from as far afield as Australia and the Netherlands. And by tapping into international resources, Lyndon SGB has retained the capacity to work on other scaffolding projects. “There are five other contract managers working out of Manchester – and they’ve all got their own jobs to work on,” Parry notes.

OTH passed the halfway stage last November, with Manchester City Council project director Paul Candelent saying that considerable effort had gone into stripping out old redundant services in preparation for the new mechanical and electrical installations. Work is now focusing on replacing the roof slates and finishing the restoration of the stonework on the iconic building, allowing attention to turn to restoring interior features. Some 140,000 roof tiles are being repaired or replaced, including 19,543 on the Great Hall roof alone. Thirty out of the 34 chimneys had been rebuilt by the time CN visited the site in February, and around 600 sash windows were being repaired or restored, as well as dozens of leaded and stained glass windows.

Manchester City Council claimed in January that “there is certainty around a high proportion of costs”, as 90 per cent of work packages have already been procured. But the budget for the OTH project is not immune from the materials price inflation affecting the UK construction sector.

In October, the council warned of potential delays as crumbling stonework, guttering and pipes were discovered, adding that “bespoke solutions” are required to meet modern safety standards without compromising the building’s heritage.

“Risks are being constantly assessed and addressed but with only around half of the construction phase complete there is still a long way to go,” it added in a January update, noting that any potential inflation-related increase could be partly met through contingency funding from its capital budget.

Completion of the construction work is planned for June 2024, but this is under review by the council, which noted: “The building will reopen to the public once construction work and internal fitout is completed. The date for this will be announced later this year.”

OTH provides a platform for apprentices

Tayla Smith, 29, joined Lyndon SGB in October 2020 as an administrative assistant focusing on social value key performance indicators. She is now an apprentice working towards a Level 4 Higher National Certificate in quantity surveying.

“I’m not going to say no to any opportunity that comes my way. I did a month with our parent [US-based] company BrandSafway looking at fleet sales management. I was looking at the wider company, not just Lyndons. But the chance to be a quantity surveyor will let me stay in Manchester.”


William Shawcross, 24, is one of the Lyndon SGB apprentices working on the OTH project.

“I’ve been working for Lyndons for about a year and a half now… You do your COTS [CISRS Operative Training Scheme] course so it’s OK for you to wear your harness and work at height. I’ve done the first part of my Part 2 and go on to finish Part 2 in July. Before I worked here, I’d always done jobs I didn’t really enjoy. But since coming here, it’s probably been the job I’ve enjoyed the most. I’m learning new stuff every day – it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”


Dave Mosley, managing director of the Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme (CISRS) and interim managing director of the National Access & Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), says recruiting and retaining staff in the access sector is a challenge.

“We’re not great at promoting scaffolding as a career option,” he admits. “But it’s not a dead end. You can get into the health and safety element, training, back-office work, wider project management… What we are trying to do at the NASC is promote scaffolding as a safe career with apprenticeship options.”

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