Andrew Plant talks to EKFB’s Social Value and Legacy Manager Elena Gonzalez about what social value means on the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. EKFB is a joint venture appointed to deliver civil engineering across 80km of HS2, the new high speed railway for Britain
What does a typical working day looks like for you?
No two days are ever the same. Part of my job is to cover the 80km of the new high-speed line, which is the contract that EKFB are delivering. Going to construction sites, meeting the teams and visiting communities. My job is about seeing how we can add positive benefits. One day I might be at a sports club, the next at a railway centre, the day after that I might be in a school. It’s about making sure we have those connections on the ground, and spending time with our teams, because ultimately they are the people who make it all happen.
Why is it important to understand local communities near the HS2 line?
It’s absolutely essential as part of social value and adding benefits to fully understand what those communities need. When you work across 80km, there are different communities and different demographics; what’s important to one community might not be important to another. We understand that people didn’t choose to live close to the new railway, but are dealing with the disruption that comes from having a major infrastructure project on their doorstep. We want to understand how we can bring some benefit to them. Having conversations with them might lead to finding a local school that needs some support, or a local charity that we can help. It could be sponsorship, or a jobs fair even – it’s so varied, which is why we have a very broad menu of what we can offer.
How do you actually reach those communities?
We have close relationships with parish councils and local groups that we keep up to date with the works. They know the communities that are being disrupted, they understand the local villages and towns. Those are the key targets for our social value engagement. Over time we have grown a lot, so now a lot of it is word-of-mouth. Sports and schools are very important – as are village halls, because they are often the hearts of these communities.
Often social value is an addition to someone’s job – for you, it sounds like the whole thing?
I could talk about it all day. It’s really important that we bring it to the construction teams, because they are making those impacts themselves. I’m the middle person between our skillsets and the supply chain in our organisation, and I understand that they have a day job – we have a construction programme that we have to deliver and that is the priority. But ten times out of ten, we are actually getting that engagement from the construction teams too, because they are also staying in the local areas, away from home, using the local shops. So engaging with local communities naturally becomes part of their job alongside the construction work. They create links within local communities, and they really get it. So I love my job; I get to talk to people, work on amazing community projects, and get everyone involved on that journey.
What is the future for the HS2 project?
The civil engineering – the viaducts, bridges, tunnels – will still ongoing for another 3 years. Then another contractor will do the track, before a period of testing for the trains, all before HS2 goes live. At the time when EKFB hands over to the next contractor, I hope that we hand over not just assets, but legacy and community relationships too. I want to be able to look back and be proud of everything we’ve done here. So we can point to the things we’ve made better, but also so the next contractor can pick up the baton and continue with that legacy. Here’s a viaduct we’ve built, and here’s an amazing charity we’ve supported. That’s how I picture it. So we don’t just disappear afterwards. There is much more to HS2 than that.