Teamwork in action

10th of April 2019
Teamwork in action
Teamwork in action

The Farnborough International Airshow is a highlight of the events calendar in the UK. Taking place every two years, this week-long event combines a major trade exhibition for the aerospace and defence industries with a public air show. Providing cleaning services for the first time this year was Stadium Support Services and ECJ spoke to Scott Hudson and Joseph Noble about managing such an immense contract.

For any cleaning company, the Farnborough International Airshow is a colossal contract win. It takes place every other year over a week during the summer on a 770 acre site in the south of England and what makes it particularly unusual is that it combines a trade exhibition with a event for the general public. Consequently it attracts 200,000 visitors and constitutes more than 200 separate buildings. Exhibition space alone occupies 70,000 square metres and there are over 600 toilet cubicles to be cleaned.

Taking on the task for the first time last year was Stadium Support Services, a family-owned facilities management business specialising in mass spectator venues. Its team of over 100 staff provided 25,000 hours of cleaning during the last air show in July 2018. Up to the time Stadium Support won the contract there had been three different cleaning service providers over the past three events so the client was looking for significant improvement.

“There has been a real change in attitude towards cleaning in the events world in recent years,” explains operations director Scott Hudson. “More and more venues are realising the importance of a clean site in attracting repeat visitors. Previously it would have been the first item on the list to have the budget reduced to save costs.”

When embarking on the Farnborough contract Stadium Support was clear in emphasising that it would not be the cheapest service provider, but it would do the job well. “In our first year there we accepted we may not make the profit margins we will eventually achieve,” says commercial director Joseph Noble. “We felt it was better to over-resource, understand the site, where the bottlenecks might occur, etc – in order to work better next year when we might need fewer staff in certain areas for example.”

There was a huge amount of preparation in the run-up to the air show itself, and the Stadium Support team worked closely with the Farnborough management to familiarise themselves with the enormous site. “We believe in an open and honest dialogue with our clients, and in really understanding what they want and need from us,” adds Noble. “And thanks to the work done in the build-up, everything ran like clockwork.”

Rapid response

The largest challenge was physically getting around the site and for that the team used golf buggies - it is 1.6 miles from one end of the Farnborough site to the other and a one-way system is in operation. Stadium Support was responsible for cleaning of exhibition halls, public areas, toilets and some private buildings, along with other services such as feminine hygiene.

“We always need to be reactive on contracts like this,” Hudson emphasises, “because the nature of our work means there are many fast, last-minute jobs. For example if there is a blocked toilet a different level of expertise is needed so we had our own plumbing engineer on hand for incidents like that.”

The key to any contract’s success is in  staff welfare and management. Training is very much on the job, apart from an introductory video, and the new recruit is taken around the site by an experienced cleaner. “We pay them for a day, walk them round to learn where everything is,” explains Hudson. “They need to know how to direct visitors around the site, and even how to escort people if they’re lost.”

Stadium Support Services is committed to paying its staff well and taking good care of them when they are working on a site like Farnborough. “We know that two of our cleaners can do the job of three who are earning only the minimum wage and may be less motivated,” Hudson points out. “Our cleaners are very well paid.”

Staff welfare paramount

And he is proud of how staff were taken care of during this week-long job. “Welfare of personnel is everything,” he points out. “We made sure our people had areas to rest, everyone had their own locker, there was a microwave for heating food, and sandwiches and water were provided. Each operative had two 15-minute breaks a day plus one hour at lunch – and often they even managed to have half an hour to watch the show, which they really enjoyed.

“I would be unhappy if people did not enjoy working for us.”

All cleaning staff had a uniform and wore a Farnborough wings badge. Top cleaners were awarded prizes and if they finished all their tasks early they could leave and still get paid. “This meant they were happy to stay late if and when needed,” Noble says.

The cleaning team was equally made up of men and women. There were seven exhibition halls. Hudson explains: “We flooded those halls with labour so they could complete the cleaning after the halls had closed in a shorter shift. We aimed to finish by 10pm each night. We did not want to have a night shift because it doesn’t suit our team so well, and it costs us more. An additional benefit was that, if necessary, we had that extra time to sort problems if something unexpected did come up.”

Exhibition hall supervisors were deployed with their team each day – day and evening staff. Then there were the toilet teams which each had their own designated areas to service. Central storage areas were set up for consumables – or some had cupboards that Stadium Support staff constructed themselves.

In terms of the daily schedule, if something didn’t need cleaning, it wasn’t cleaned, explains Noble. The operation was aided by the use of software to track and monitor all staff and tasks, to ensure nothing was missed. “We positioned ourselves at the site in advance in order to customise the software and tailor it to the Farnborough contract. It offered accountability and transparency for us,
and for our client. All the supervisors and mobile teams used it in their daily operations.”

Positive partner

Stadium’s Support’s client is Farnborough International and soft services manager Elaine Hobbin explains the company had used other contractors and experienced various challenges in 2016. “We really needed a partner to work with who would be positive and share our core values of positivity, precision and partnership.”

She also speaks positively about the longevity potential of the contract with the new service provider in place. “Stadium Support used the 2018 show partly as a learning experience with the aim of making improvements as they go.”

Prior to the show taking place, Hobbin shared some of the most challenging aspects experienced previously to allow Stadium Support to plan in advance – any additional equipment needs could be taken care of for example.

“The relationship was open and honest from the start,” she says. “This was not just a contract as far as we were concerned, it was about developing a partnership. And Stadium Support very much share our passion to deliver the best show possible.”

Providing services at Farnborough also required Stadium Support to have an understanding of how both public and trade shows operate. From Monday to Friday the show is open to trade, then at the weekend it is public. “We needed the team to understand the differences and deliver accordingly. So that means differentiating between the needs of exhibition space and public space, followed by the turnaround of buildings from trade to public. And they were entirely positive in their approach all the way through.”

What makes Stadium Support such a successful services partner? “The company is very good at coming up with solutions when challenges arise,” Hobbin says. “For example we had some public toilets with no ramps for disabled access and they just sorted it out.

“We had a great deal of confidence in their delivery so during the event we could concentrate on being reactive – that was just a radio call away. And often the problem had been pre-empted by them in any case.”

Attention to detail

The Farnborough management team was also impressed at the attention to detail by the operatives, particularly in exhibition halls. Hobbin explains: “The aisles were kept clear, bins were emptied. Any other troubleshooting needed was done after the show closed so that every day the team could just get on with tasks as they arose. And they truly cared about how all the areas looked and how the visitors experienced the air show.

“I was also extremely impressed about the positive work ethic, from director down. Everybody seemed to like what they were doing and they knew everything about the air show. Operatives were very much front-of-house, happy to direct people around for example. And they were clearly well looked-after by the Stadium Support management – the company is most definitely of the mindset that if you look after staff, they will work well. Operatives were all happy to stay late if necessary – this is a very motivated workforce.”

All of Farnborough International’s expectations were fulfilled, says Hobbin. “I have received only positive feedback from the rest of the management. Of course there are improvements that can be made – this is a no-blame culture though and we have all come up with the same ideas.

“For example we would try to get the team on board earlier in 2020 so Stadium Support can establish relationships with other suppliers they may overlap with as early as possible. It did work well in 2018 but it could work better.

“We could also provide a space for cleaners to store their equipment – ride-on scrubbers for example – in the exhibition halls or as close to them as possible.”

Summing up, Hobbin says: “We are very excited about working with Stadium Support again. There was a great deal for the team to learn, different suppliers to deal with etc, and they performed so well.

“This is not just Farnborough International’s event. We need the support of all our suppliers in order to run the air show successfully.”


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