How Sunbelt Rentals built Covid-19 testing centres at speed, on a national scale with the support of temporary fencing solutions from ZND

In December 2019, the World Health Organisation declared that an outbreak of Covid-19 was an international public health emergency and by 11th March 2020, the spread of the virus was declared a pandemic. With hospitalisations and deaths increasing at frightening speed, on the 23rd March 2020, the UK was officially placed into lockdown to try and curb the spread of the virus. 

In addition to the national lockdown, various other measures were put in place including the introduction of masks, self-isolation, closure of borders and the availability of mass testing at scale never attempted in the UK before. 

The importance of testing in the fight against Covid-19 was particularly profound as, in the absence of a vaccine, and even once vaccines were rolled out, rapid diagnosis of infected members of the public was paramount in order to curb transmission and control the pandemic. The UK’s ability to deliver good quality testing was therefore hailed as ‘one of the biggest parts of how the UK was going to beat the disease.’ 

The rapid set up of Covid testing centres was therefore vital to the government’s Covid response.

One of the key challenges of the UK government’s ambitious testing strategy was to ensure there would be enough capacity to achieve this aim, to achieve this the government partnered with commercial organisations to build a network of testing sites across the UK

In April 2020, the government partnered with Sunbelt Rentals to support this effort building over 500 fully functioning test centres during phase one of the regional testing site programme. By March 2021, Sunbelt Rentals had delivered almost 290,000 assets to regional testing sites nationwide, continuing to provide support services to keep these sites running throughout the duration of the pandemic. 

Mark Fisher is Head of Barriers and Fencing at Sunbelt Rentals. ZND, as one of Sunbelt Rentals’ supply partners for this significant project, recently spoke to Mark about how they helped to deliver mass testing sites on behalf of our NHS, the challenges they faced in implementing these vital solutions, at pace and scale, and how ZND supported them to do this. 

The Challenge – Delivering an unprecedented national pandemic response project at speed and scale

The UK government’s testing programme plan, published in April 2020, described the need to deliver a resilient, national effort for mass testing at a scale never seen before. This programme would require support from commercial partners who had the ability and agility to both build and adapt the delivery of testing over time, as decentralised models of testing were explored and evaluated. Partners of this programme would need to act swiftly and at scale, to ensure that the NHS and the UK government would be able to deliver their ambitious testing programme. 

Mark explained the challenges that Sunbelt Rentals faced in order to meet the requirements, scale and speed of this project, “As more and more sites were being built, we would often have a maximum of one week to turn them around and each one was vastly different. Right from the offset, we never knew how many sites were going to be built, or how long they would stay up. Therefore, we had to be extremely proactive in order to be able to deliver a project like this.” 

The unpredictability of Covid-19, and the increasing importance of developing new approaches to adapting to the evolution of the pandemic meant that Sunbelt Rentals had to adjust their normal processes, “We had to create new, agile processes to ensure that we could meet the rapidly changing requirements and demands of this project.”

“Every physical site was different so we had to conduct a site visit of each one and develop a unique plan that would work logistically for that specific testing centre as part of our 360 solutions offering. This was a significant undertaking for our business and was very different to anything else we have ever delivered previously. However, given the unprecedented times we were facing, and our partnerships with key suppliers, such as ZND, we were able to adapt our processes and respond to the government’s flagship testing programme, and support our country to emerge from lockdown safely, as soon as possible.”  

The approach – delivering 80% of the UK’s Covid testing centres, with the help of key suppliers

Sunbelt Rentals provided key support to the government in helping them to establish Covid testing centres at short notice. The scale of the project was unprecedented and the most crucial part of meeting their brief would be to plan and deliver the build of these testing sites, with the safety of crowd control, as well as mitigating any risk of contamination, often at very short notice, “We delivered around 80% of Covid testing centres across the country, so by far we were one of the biggest partners of the government’s test centre builds.” explained Mark. “However, once we planned out what we would need to deliver a project of this scale, our initial stock was used up pretty quickly. As more and more sites were being built, we required vast supplies of barriers and fencing panels. Often we would need to source 10,000 barriers or 10,000 fence panels at a time.”

Mark discussed how he needed to work with suppliers that Sunbelt Rentals could trust to deliver quality products, at the scale and speed required to meet the promises they had made to the government as part of their contract. “I had to find new suppliers to help us deliver this project, but on the whole, we needed to work with suppliers that we had 100% confidence to deliver this kind of unpredictable and unprecedented demand. This meant that we were able to commit to the government on the basis that we knew we had fantastic relationships with great suppliers who would be able to help us deliver.”

How ZND supported this approach

Overall, ZND supplied Sunbelt Rentals with over 100km of temporary fencing and 20km of crowd control barriers to help them build these test centres, with Sunbelt Rentals often submitting orders to ZND of 10,000 barriers and 10,000 fence panels at a time, something which ZND was best placed to do as the market-leading supplier of temporary fencing in the UK. ZND’s focus on quality and safety, and the wrap-around support services that they offer, were a key reason Sunbelt Rentals chose ZND to support in delivering this project.

“We chose to work with ZND, as an established partner of ours, throughout the delivery of this project to buy more fencing, bracing and a whole host of other products that we needed to build these test centres.” Explained Mark. 

“In order for us to deliver to such tight timescales, we needed to work with an experienced and established domestic partner. Through our existing relationship with ZND, we knew that they would be able to support us in our promise to the government and meet the requirements they had set out.”

The outcome – successful delivery of a challenging and dynamic Covid response project

Mark explained how the challenges of the project were significant, and at times extremely challenging, but that being able to deliver it so successfully, was extremely rewarding, “We always knew that we would be able to deliver on our promises to the government and the NHS, but given the constantly evolving situation.”

It is a testament to our business, our ability to deliver, and the trusted partners that we work with, that we were able to provide support to the government’s pandemic response by building these sites so quickly. Being part of this flagship project, helping to support the government’s Covid response, supporting the efforts to get the country out of lockdown as quickly as possible and ultimately helping to save people’s lives is something we are really proud of.”

Sunbelt Rentals Ltd

Sunbelt Rentals forms part of FTSE 100 Company, Ashtead Group plc and is the UK’s largest equipment rental company with over 200 service centres nationwide, more than 4,000 employees and over 35,000 customers.

Sunbelt’s ability to deliver a diversified offering for its customers makes it entirely unique in the rental market. Customers in the construction, industrial, government, infrastructure, events, and film sectors can access a wide range of solutions with the guarantee that Sunbelt will MAKE IT HAPPEN for them.

About ZND

ZND is the market leader in the manufacture and supply of high-quality temporary fencing, hoarding, pedestrian barriers, event barriers and associated products. Our mission is to supply the market with the safest and most effective demarcation solution and to continue to support our clients in delivering crowd control to some of the most prestigious events around the country and across the world. 

Contact us today, to find out how we can help you deliver your next project or event – we can support any brief, at any scale.