Construction continues on Sheffield University’s £20m atrium after Interserve deal

Control of one of Britain's biggest contractors, Interserve, has moved to a new company after administrators were appointed – and it is business as usual on Sheffield University’s £20m atrium the Heartspace.

By David.Walsh2
Tuesday, 02 April, 2019, 13:38
Glass going in on the Heartspace. Pic John Kees

Under a pre-arranged agreement, administrators were installed and the assets moved to a group controlled by Interserve's lenders.

Bosses insist the deal will protect services and jobs. The firm had been plunged into crisis by a near £650m debt mountain, sparking fears for the future of the project in Sheffield.

The complex structure between the engineering buildings. Pic John Kees.

Keith Lilley, director of infrastructure at the University of Sheffield, said: “The Interserve Group was quickly sold, as part of a pre-packaged administration, to a newly incorporated company called Interserve Limited, allowing it to continue with business as usual.

"There has been no disruption on site and we have been assured by Interserve that work on the Engineering Heartspace project will continue as normal.

“We're working hard with the Interserve team to ensure that progress continues as agreed and we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation so that we can respond quickly and effectively should we need to.

"Heartspace is an important project for the university, which will provide a dynamic social and research collaboration space between the two oldest buildings in our estate."

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The engineering buildings on Mappin Street. Pic John Kees.

The atrium spans the Grade II listed Mappin Building and 1855 Central Wing on Portobello Street. Both have undergone months of disruptive preparatory engineering work. The two-year scheme is not due to finish until late summer.

Interserve said the likes of RBS, HSBC and BNP Paribas - together with Emerald Asset Management and Davidson Kempner Capital - have seized control of the firm. Under the terms, existing shareholders were wiped out and Interserve’s net debt was reduced to £275m. The group, which holds crucial contracts for services in prisons, schools and hospitals, has issued £480m of new equity as part of the arrangement.

The outsourcer employs 25,000 people in the UK and 80,000 globally and has shed hundreds of jobs in the last two years.

Debbie White, chief executive of Interserve Group, said: "Interserve is fundamentally a strong business and with a competitive financial platform in place we see significant opportunities ahead as a best-in-class partner to the public and private sector."

Pic John Kees.
Pic John Kees.