The forgotten members of the Irish Olympic team
IN east London, the heart of the 2012 Olympics, the ‘big build’, which started in 2006, has transformed a dilapidated area into a world-class urban park complete with new infrastructure.
By Katy Harrington
The project is sustainable, on time, within budget, and, for the first time on an Olympic build, without a fatality on site, and thanks to a huge contingent of Irish workers. With only the final touches to the Olympic park and stadiums left to be done, KATY HARRINGTON meets the last Irish men and women standing.
MICHAEL GALVIN. Job title: assistant engineering managerHometown: Bishopstown, Cork
Why London? I came to London in Oct 2008, after my girlfriend moved here to study. I had my interview around the same time as the Lehman Brothers collapse, so, regardless of love, I would probably have ended up here anyway.
Micheal’s experience: I started in Nov 2008 as the assistant engineering manager. My background is in structural consultancy, so my primary role was to run the design and build elements of temporary bridges on the park and I’ve been involved in other aspects of the job like planning, procurement, and commercial too.
Biggest achievement? I’m really happy with the work we did on temporary bridges. They consist of timber decking on pre-cast concrete planks on a steel I-beam frame, which means, when it comes to removing them, all the elements can be taken apart and re-used.
Biggest challenge? The extra 25 minutes a day onto my commute getting through security and then a bus to the site office.
What’s next? I’m finishing up on the current phase of the Olympics and moving on to the Legacy phase. I’m getting married in September and we’d like to go home, so if job opportunities in construction are limited, I have developed skills to transfer to other industries.
NIAMH MORAN – Job title: Site agent Hometown: Navan, Co Meath
Why London? I was made redundant in Ireland in 2008 and my old company assisted with job options in their sister company in London. I knew I would struggle in Ireland to find a job with any stability so London was a good opportunity. When I was offered a job on the Olympics I was excited about the project.
Niamh’s experience: I started in a sub agent role and have progressed to agent for the infrastructure package. I gained more engineering experience on the Olympics in the three years here than in the six years I worked in Ireland. The technical engineering experience for me has been the most rewarding as I have learned new skill sets which I had not been exposed to in Ireland.
Biggest challenge? The Olympics is a challenging project in terms of integration with other contractors as everyone has programme critical dates to achieve. At times it feels like there are too many procedures and forms which need to be followed and these generate a lot of paperwork unfortunately, but with the high safety targets being met, it is obviously working!
Biggest achievement? The Olympics hosted annual awards schemes between all the contractors and I won Manager of the Year in 2011.
What’s next? I intend to stay in London for the foreseeable future and hope to be involved in more large projects. London has great opportunities for young people involved in construction. It has long-term projects which provide job stability and top-class experience with rail, tunneling, inner city construction projects and utilities.
GERRY COPSE. Job title: Section ForemanHometown: Carrickerry, Co Limerick
Why London? I came to London in 2009 because I was put on notice at work and I realised that work in Ireland was dying down. I was on the brink of losing my job, so I just decided to go to London looking for work.
Gerry’s experience: I started on the Olympic Park in Mar 2009 as a carpenter. In Aug 2010 I was promoted to section foreman. Since then I have been involved in bridge construction, bridge refurbishment, approach ramps, and drainage, including pumping stations and wet wells and road construction.
What has the project been like to work on? Great. The high standards of safety on this project were a real eye opener and also recycling and reusing of materials. Foremen hate wasting materials!
Biggest challenge? The worst thing was security. Some days you’d just feel like people were going through your lunchbox to see what you were having for your break! After three years it got very annoying.
Biggest achievement? The Olympic Delivery Authority gave me a quality award for my work on one of the bridges.
I am really proud of that because the construction and the external factors were very challenging. We had to lift in eight tonne pre-cast parapets within very close proximity to the railway.
What’s next? I have a daughter and fiancée in England now, so I am staying for the foreseeable future.
My plan is to stay working on the big projects, get as much experience as I can, advance my career, and eventually I will be running my own jobs.
NIAMH NÍ CHRÓINÍNJob title: Engineer/ bid managerHometown: Corofin, Co Clare
Why London? I came to London in Aug 2008. I spent two years working on site in Ireland and then moved into designing pre-cast concrete. I was regretting my move into design when I heard there were opportunities at the Olympics for engineers, so I quit my job and prepared to move.
Niamh’s experience: I started as a site engineer and after two years I was promoted to section engineer. In 2010 I started a Masters in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution at Kings College London. In 2011 a position came up for a deputy bid manager for the Olympic Legacy Contract and I was put forward. The tender was a success and afterwards I was given another tender to manage. Now I’m working on taking the Olympic Park from the games phase and transforming it into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Biggest achievement? I’m most proud of our safety record. I’m also proud of being the deputy bid manager on such a large and successful tender. It’s great for the CV, but what’s really great is that through my team’s hard work we have ensured employment for many of the staff for the next 18 months.
Biggest challenge? Security — we always knew that security would be difficult, but I don’t think any of us really understood how difficult.
What next? I’d love to come home, I really miss my family and friends, but in order to get a job at home I need experience that puts me above the rest. I can get that here and I can fly home often.
CHRISTOPHER O’MALLEY. Job title: Sub AgentHometown: Achill Island, Co Mayo
Why London? I graduated from NUIG in 2008 with a degree in civil engineering and got full-time employment almost immediately as a site engineer, but towards the end of 2008 it became apparent the economy was stagnating, and even though I was still employed in Ireland I felt I had to seek employment abroad that would be more sustainable over the coming years.
Chris’ experience: I started on the Olympics in Jan 2009 as site engineer, ensuring the works were constructed to the relevant drawings and specification. I progressed from engineer to middle management and my role developed into site/sub-contractor/commercial management and procurement. This is the largest project I have worked on. We constructed eight bridges, four underpasses, highways and drainage to facilitate the movement of people around the park during the games and I spent almost three-and-a-half years working there.
Biggest achievement? Being part of a global project which is instantly recognised worldwide, and that we did not have any reportable accidents over two-and-a-half years and one million man-hours on the project.
What’s next? I have just started a secondment on my company’s technical services department and I intend to sit my professional review in the next year to achieve a chartered engineer status — that will be another milestone.
Facts about the ‘big build’:
1. It is one of the biggest construction projects in Europe: work includes construction of 5km of road network, 30 bridges, temporary and permanent structures.
2. 96% of the material found at the site in 2005 was remediated, treated and placed back in the ground.
3. All approaches to new bridges have bird and bat boxes to create new habitats.
4. Due to a high sustainability target, the majority of elements you see on the Olympic park from structures, topsoil to materials on the roads has been recycled, reclaimed or can be deconstructed and re-used after the games.
5. All employees must use public transport, or cycle or walk to work to ensure a carbon zero project.
6. On completion of the games, workers have 13 months to transform the park into a Royal park, including deconstructing some of the buildings, removing temporary structures for basketball, hockey and waterpolo, and transforming the permanent structures for use within the community.
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