BLOG: Christine Winstanley, MD of Eric Wright Health & Care, talks openly about COVID-crisis projects

Have Covid-crisis projects shown us the future for public-private partnerships?

By Christine Winstanley, MD of Eric Wright Health & Care

Traditionally, strong relationships between the public and private sectors are largely built on trust and therefore often take many years to develop.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated what can be achieved in a very short time span, under the most difficult of circumstances.

Could we learn from this to aid the development of social infrastructure in the future?

If you look at the speed with which an existing care facilities was re-purposed , like Lillycross here in the North West, it demonstrates what future public-private partnerships could look like – and deliver for the benefit of the communities they serve.

Eric Wright Health and Care, part of the Eric Wright Group, has really good relationships with its long-standing public sector organisations honed from a 16-year working relationship, but we hadn’t actually worked with Halton Borough Council (HBC) before until the COVID crisis.

HBC needed a step-down facility for patients recovering from COVID to help free up hospital beds for those who were more poorly.  One of our strategic collaborators, Capacity Lab, had identified a former care home for the facility but it had been derelict for five years and needed refurbishing.

There was a budget of just under £1m and the centre had to be delivered, fully operational, safety compliant, CQC accredited and staffed in just four weeks.  Capacity Lab asked if we could help.

It can take four weeks to get an initial meeting set up for a project like this, so the task ahead was a huge challenge, not least because at the height of the Pandemic, we needed to protect those working on site with social distancing.  We worked directly with Halton council and Capacity Lab to get the work done in a tripartite agreement.

The Group has a big engine of different skills to draw on from legal to construction and compliance and everyone within the business rallied.  Even trusted suppliers stepped up to the plate, recognising that time was of the essence.

There was a huge level of trust.  At one point, I had to ring my managing director to tell him that £250,000 of supplies were being delivered to the site and we didn’t have a purchase order.  We just had to get it done.

It was phenomenal to watch this level of collaboration.  You look at the result and while it is just a building it is also a testament to the tireless and selfless work of everyone involved.

The COVID crisis has put the spotlight on community and the caring professions.  We have all felt vulnerable during this health crisis and perhaps it is that vulnerability which has helped us focus on others and deliver this project – and I’m sure others around the country – in record time.

Ahead of us, society at large has some huge challenges such as an ageing population, the breakdown of communities and failing places.  Perhaps this way of working, this way of thinking is how we address these issues.

If we can harness that sense of shared value to create a blueprint for what we want our places and communities to look like, it would give the public and private sector something to work towards collectively.

Lillycross was the result of everyone focusing on the outcome rather than periphery detail.  What could we achieve if this was replicated in the longer term?


Pictured from L-R: Christine Winstanley – Eric Wright Health & Care, David Osborne – Catalyst Choices, Emma Ingham – Eric Wright Health & Care, Sarah Woodward – Catalyst Choices, Chris Catterall – Capacity, Damian Nolan – Halton Borough Council


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