With 283,900m2 of manufacturing space across three sites in the UK and Europe, Portakabin had the capacity to respond quickly and efficiently when the world went into lockdown.


Delivering over 500 individual buildings across Europe, the market leading modular construction firm had the capability to solve solutions for a wide range of customers; from FMCG giants like Two Sisters in the Midlands and Morrisons in Yorkshire to the NHS frontline, its support helped the country keep moving.

Hywel DDA University Health Board had several buildings delivered to be used as isolation units in Llanelli. Northern Health and Social Care Trust in Antrim ordered multiple buildings for staff showers, toilet facilities for hand washing as well as assessment pods. Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust has a standalone 30-bed ward built specifically to treat coronavirus patients in just eight weeks which went from designs on the table to a completed order in less than 96 hours. These are the turnaround times Portakabin is used to delivering.

In 2017, following the national tragedy that was the Grenfell Tower fire, Portakabin designed, manufactured, installed and fitted out a 1000-pupil secondary school for Kensington Aldridge Academy in just nine weeks. Known as the fastest school ever built, it was a testament to the power of modular construction.

Now in the current pandemic, these Portakabin timescales are helping protect and support the nation’s economy.

Portakabin, the market-leading offsite construction specialist in the UK, is a family owned business founded by Donald Shepherd almost 60 years ago. It’s manufacturing facility in York and locations around the UK,  kept operating safely throughout lockdown, when the country needed it most. It’s people stood fast and resilient in the face of the crisis delivering at times many thought impossible.

When the UK was in its "containment" stage, hospitals required assessments pods to test as many individuals as possible and we had an influx of Trusts asking us for these with very quick turnarounds. We were in a privileged position as we were already in discussions with NHS England and NHS Improvement. Now as the UK moves into its next stage, hospitals are still requiring urgent space as well as testing facilities. We are also seeing a steady increase in washroom facilities where staff are able to shower before they go home to their families. It’s incredibly moving to hear that by providing our buildings – lives will and have been saved.

Victoria Phillips, Healthcare Specialist, Portakabin

Modular comes into its own in these circumstances. It is a quick solution for additional space - with no compromise on quality whether that be for a single assessment pod up to vast clinical ward spaces.

Now, as nations across Europe tentatively move towards a relaxation of restriction’s Portakabin is helping companies facilitate the return to work for many in the private sector as well as continuing to be able to additional space quickly for public sector customers.

When work was underway to prepare for school children returning to the classroom, Portakabin had dozens of employees working away from their families building and installing primary schools such as in the South West (Roundswell and IKB Primary Academies) and the North East (Keeble Primary Academy) of the country. In the height of the pandemic, these teams were able to safely install modules in line with social distancing guidelines, keeping hopes alive for hundreds of school children and their parents come September.

Preparations are also on-going for St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust who will soon have a state-of-the-art 60-bed modular ward built at Whiston Hospital; housing two new 30-bed wards, one as a “step down” ward for patients who no longer need acute treatment and the other as a “decant” ward to allow older wards to be closed for refurbishment. The team will be providing a full turn-key solution including canopied walk way, ramped access, medical gases, functional bed lifts and handled everything from design and planning permission to finalising the colourful hoarding around the site.

And while the cogs keep turning on the Portakabin machine, its people are taking on the “little ships” mentality of British resolve. While dedicated teams around the country have been delivering much needed facilities as part of the concerted national effort, in other parts of the business, people have been doing everything they can to support the healthcare system.  Jim Bower, an employee in the IT department at its head office in York, has been running the onsite 3D printer day and night to create headbands for face shields as part of ‘The Big Print’. He recently delivered 60 complete kits to the York regional hub, which will get inspected, sterilised, assembled and sent to healthcare workers around the region. And in other parts of the country, employees have been downloading sewing patterns to create homemade scrubs for healthcare workers. All efforts are unprecedented and no matter the challenge, seeing people pull together in this country’s time of need is incredibly inspirational.

With safety being a number one priority, Portakabin introduced safe working practices in its York manufacturing facility so its workers could continue to deliver despite the obvious challenges.  

By looking both within and outside construction and manufacturing and taking guidance from Public Health England guidelines and the Construction Leadership Council Standard Operating Procedures on the safest way to carry out work, our teams tirelessly assessed every requirements against their own environment to reduce risk.

We changed the way we worked, refined processes and sacrificed efficiency to ensure social distancing without losing our can do attitude. We are constantly reminding our teams that it’s OK to stop and think about how they are going about a task to ensure it is safe to do so, with social distancing in mind, this includes utilising existing equipment, originally intended for other processes, to help us naturally enforce social distancing measures. It hasn’t been easy but we’re proud to have been able to protect our workforce while delivering critical buildings for the Private and Public Sector and most notably our treasured NHS.

Simon Pollard, Head of Manufacturing and Logistics, Portakabin
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