How to communicate with those affected by your project – eight lessons from the Crossrail event

Crossrail construction site: the Tunnel Boring Machine is lowered into the shaft.

Crossrail construction site: the Tunnel Boring Machine is lowered into the shaft.

On Tuesday, I experienced change from the perspective of an affected stakeholder. The Crossrail tunnels will pass under the Barbican estate where I live.

As you probably know, Crossrail is a new underground railway, which will traverse London West to East, rather as the RER C traverses Paris. To do this, they are excavating huge tunnels through central London, and creating great shafts where the stations will be. The tunnels will pass directly underneath the Barbican, connecting Farringdon to Moorgate. They are at a depth of 40metres, and are 7 metres in diameter. The Tunnel Boring Machines are approaching. They have already gone under Paddington, Soho, and Mayfair. Now they are coming this way.

Crossrail near here

The Barbican Residents Association organised a meeting with Crossrail. It was extraordinarily well attended. There were something like 500 concerned residents in the lecture theatre. We are worried about the effect these excavations are going to have on our blocks of flats. We fear subsidence. We worry that we will not be able to get insurance. Our doors and windows may stick as our building settle. We are bracing ourselves for noise, dust, and vibration. We, well certainly I, had low expectations of this event. The Crossrail team exceeded my expectations. I was impressed.

By the end of the meeting the presenters received rousing applause. The final comment in the Q&A session was from a woman who congratulated the Crossrail team on their presentations and their answers to questions. She spoke for many of us when she said that she was impressed at what they were managing to achieve with so little disruption to us. She was proud to have such an amazing project in our neighbourhood, and she looked forward to learning more about it in their future communications.

How did the Crossrail team achieve this very positive response? Here’s my view.

  1. They brought the real people: Bill Tucker, the Central Area Director, and Mike Black, Head of Geotechnics, together with other specialists. These are not PR people, they are real operational people who could answer our questions and take responsibility.
  2. They gave us facts and figures. They did not disguise or play down the fact that there would be settlement. It will be less than 5mm in most places. They put these figures in context for us. A 5mm settlement possibly produces hairline cracks, no more.
  3. They did not patronise us. The Head of Geotechnics used technical terms, which he explained. He showed us graphs, detailed maps, and measurements.
  4. They showed us a lot of pictures, including pictures of the other parts of London under which the Tunnel Boring Machines have burrowed without incident. Some of these places are bricks-and-morter churches in the West End. We are concrete. We could see we were going to be OK.
  5. They took responsibility. This was quite remarkable. They did not belittle anyone’s concerns. They will do surveys of every flat, to see what cracks exist now. There are quite a few cracks in our flat. This is the baseline. Then we, and they, can know if the tunnelling has made a new crack. They undertake to repair all damage they make. They have a budget for this. They described the clear process for handling concerns and for taking action on reports of damage, noise or vibration.
  6. They gave plain-language, unequivocal undertakings. The noise levels they produce are measured at the surface. These noise levels will not exceed 25DB. 25DB is the noise level you hear “on a Sunday in Hyde Park”. They explained the monitoring systems. They told us the number to call if we hear noise. They also explained that at 40m down, in London clay, it is most unlikely we will hear anything, and that nobody else had done so.
  7. They answered every question directly. They answered the exact question as posed, unlike politicians. They were not at all defensive. Will monitoring devices be stuck to our listed buildings? Yes they will. Will the fastenings of the monitoring devices damage our listed buildings? Yes maybe, and Crossrail will restore our much-loved concrete to its former state afterwards.
  8. They told us where to go to find more information. They also undertook to come back and see us again on a specific date. The entire event was videoed, and will be on our community website. Crossrail itself has a detailed website with updated information on progress, and descriptions of the project from a number of aspects.

I learned a lot, and not just about Crossrail. I saw a competent team, who had done this before, communicating directly, clearly and honestly with stakeholders. That was quite a lesson in itself. I thought I’d pass it on.

Categories: Communicating Change

2 replies

  1. Jane,

    Great to read such positive feedback. Your comments remind us that stakeholder engagement is not complicated. Being proactive, timely, clear and honest works.

    We will continue to adopt this approach across the Crossrail project. We will use your words to challenge anyone who questions the effectiveness and “rightness” of this approach. And we look forward to coming back to the Barbican in the future.

    Thank you,

    Ben White
    Head of Community Relations

    • Hello Ben Thank you for reading my post. Yes, your team did a great job. I should also have mentioned the Project Manager of the Moorgate Excavation, who was also at the event. I didn’t catch his name. He spoke to us about the acoustic insulation they are using on the shaft to protect us from the noise of their excavations. He also memorably said “the further down we go, the less you will hear us” – which was a clear and graphic description.

      I think one of the things that worked for me in the presentation was that they took the trouble to educate us, as well as inform us. So we were told about the sensors and the theodolites to monitor settlement. I found this very interesting. Walking through Finsbury Circus on the way to Liverpool Street yesterday, I spotted one of the red-eyed monitors tucked away in corner of of a pavement, and I tried to see the theodolite that was monitoring it. It’s given me a whole new way of looking at the city as I walk around!

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