25 years apart, Bristol UWE students unite to create new Students' Union Building

Issue date: 11 June 2015

It's been 25 years since Tony Syddall graduated from the University of West England with a degree in Construction Management, but fate has re-united him with his old institution – and he is now mentoring three current construction students who are following in his footsteps.

Those 25 years of experience have led to Tony being the project manager in charge of the £9 million new build project to create the new Students' Union building for major contractor BAM Construction.

Tony has been working with three current students in their placement year from UWE construction programmes developing their skills in the workplace while simultaneously creating a future building for fellow and future UWE Bristol students..

William Luxton, 21, in the final year of BSc (Hons) Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management has already secured an offer of employment from BAM when he completes his course and has finished working on the new building this summer.

“It was my dad who got me interested in this kind of life – he creates children's playgrounds. He told me how hard it was and to get into the office if you want a long career!”

Will spent his placement year working on BAM's new UK HQ for Imperial Tobacco, and now splits his final year between study and working on site.

“I've been so lucky to see two such different projects from start to finish, and I'm blessed with the location. I can cycle in from my digs in Filton, and I've found Tony to be an incredibly chilled out project manager.

Jason Southan, his tutor says, “We know that placements are incredibly valuable for students and we value the relationships with our construction partner employers. Placements help students apply their knowledge in a real work environment in industry. The vast majority of our students who have undertaken a placement have been offered a job. Also, we find that working crystalizes their knowledge and they do better academically in their final year back at University. Working on this project has been an excellent experience for all our students.”

Louise Chambers, 30, has taken a different route, having worked in retail for Top Shop for 10 years and now is in the third of four years on the BSc (Hons) Construction Project Management. “I have spent time working for other major construction companies, Balfour Beatty and also Interserve”, she says, “you need people skills and time management in retail too, but here, your environment and the external factors are constantly changing.

“It is a very positive experience. The tutors at UWE Bristol strongly encourage us to take placements. On top of that I have been pushed by BAM to do training courses and take part in everything; and while I hear of the difficulties and experiences some others are having with placements, I am getting vast amounts of different opportunities with Bam. I have been involved with the ground works and externals, the kitchen fit-out, environmental targets and site visits as well as Construction Ambassador events. ”

Louise adds that women should not overlook a career in construction management.

“I have never been treated differently. There are no issues. There is a lot of variety and it's a career many women would enjoy and succeed in, but perhaps don't even consider.”

Tony is clearly very proud of his team.

“Things have changed of course since my time here when I stayed in Halls of residence in Coldharbour Lane. I used to have a beer here but the campus was dotted around the city. After I got my degree I was self-employed as an engineer for many years, and joined BAM in 2007.

“I came here after creating a refuge for people in crisis in Pilsdon, Dorset, a project that won the Prime Minister's Big Society Award.

“We' enjoy a very strong relationship with the University. One of our management team lectures here on new technology and our Facebook page keeps the students informed of how the project is going – this is useful from a practical and educational perspective for the students. Their new building is two structures on split levels, and we're doing some additional service works to help the University with future expansion. “I'm delighted that we've got three talented young people making careers for themselves on the team, because our industry needs constant renewal and the practical knowledge of working on site is irreplaceable.”

BAM – which helped set up the South West shared apprenticeship scheme - expects to finish work this summer in time for the new Students' Union building – which includes a bar, a shop, a dance floor, coffee shop, meeting rooms, offices and a plaza – to be ready for the start of the new academic term.

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