Up close: Darren Gouge

October 18, 2023 | People

“I won’t dwell on a problem,” says Site Manager Darren Gouge. “I’ll quickly switch into solution mode and move forward.”

Darren’s cheerful demeanour reflects a pragmatic approach to life’s challenges.

Born and raised in East London, Darren followed in the footsteps of his father, becoming a bricklayer alongside his brother. He completed an apprenticeship and initially worked with family before branching out into the industry.

Over the next 25 years, Darren worked across the various ends of construction, from pub and restaurant refurbishments to new builds and general maintenance. A proverbial jack of all trades.

“In England it’s common for a tradie to work across skillsets and effectively do a bit of everything,” says Darren.

“Remedial building works are approached differently over there, with most repairs classed as building maintenance. I was attracted to this type of work because no two days were the same.”

Eleven years ago, Darren and his family made the decision to relocate to Australia.

“I had my wife, three boys, two dogs and a shipping container filled with everything I owned. We landed in Sydney without a job or house, just a friend’s spare room for the first weeks here.

“I’ve always believed that if you’re prepared to put yourself out there, an opportunity will present itself.”

Getting a foot in the door of construction companies proved difficult, so Darren went back to bricklaying to make ends meet. “The physical labour nearly killed me!” he laughs.

However, the road soon led back to site management in the remedial sector, and then several years later, he agreed to an interview with Paynter Dixon. “On meeting members of the senior management team I was impressed with how down-to-earth and genuine they were. I followed my instincts and here I am 7 years later and going strong.”

What are the ingredients of good site management? Darren shared his thoughts.

1. Show respect

“I’ll speak to everyone as equals, whether they are the CEO or a cleaner. Give people the benefit of the doubt, listen with an open mind, and be fair and reasonable. This is how a culture of mutual respect is created on site with our subcontractors. When site managers throw their weight around and start shouting, the site team switches off. It’s counterproductive and costly.

2. Be curious

“While I have 35 years of construction experience – I don’t know everything. We have a strong network of subcontractors, and we are comfortable in sharing knowledge. Electricians, plumbers, joiners and more. I’ll pick their brains and ask questions. It’s a dynamic to our partnering which works well in problem solving.”

3. Aim straight

Remedial work in strata environments is challenging at the best of times. “If you’re working in a block of apartments, you may have the building manager, strata committee, 65 tenants and the client – all asking questions.

“Television shows like ‘The Block’ show construction completed in five minutes, but that is simply not the case. Stakeholder communication is huge, especially when the message is not rosy. Perhaps a hidden building defect has been uncovered, or rain has delayed the installation of a waterproofing membrane. Whatever the situation, it pays to be straight up. Lean into the issue and collaborate with all parties on the way forward. There are no short cuts.”

4. Walk in other people’s shoes

It stands to reason that most clients and building occupants are not construction professionals. Therein lies the challenge of communicating remedial work in layperson terms to avoid confusion.

According to Darren, it really is a matter of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding how to convey the ‘how’ and ‘why’ in a way that creates clarity and confidence. “Being a people person certainly helps.”

5. Sweat the details … because they matter

Remedial work is routinely carried out in occupied buildings – from offices to apartments. “When our day ends, I’m locking construction gates in or near home environments. My responsibility is to make sure the work area is safe and secured.”

“An eye for detail is essential. For example, I’ll make sure the strata common areas remain spotless – no empty coffee cups or wrappers on my watch.” There’s good reason to be proactive when Paynter Dixon is front and centre on site signage. “I’m the first person to be contacted, but I welcome that responsibility.”

6. Adapt to a changing situation

Paynter Dixon is renowned for planning and process-led delivery, but agility is always a factor of remedial work. “You may have a methodology and scope of works in hand, but when underlying building issues are exposed, planning can change in a heartbeat. “

The team steps up. “We re-evaluate the situation, amend the plan, communicate to stakeholders, obtain approvals and carry out the work to client satisfaction.” Paynter Dixon’s quality and safety management systems also underpin the response to ensure solutions are compliant and fit for purpose.

Tough assignments

Darren has tackled his fair share of ‘Mission Impossible’ assignments in live environments:

Beachside apartments, Narrabeen. The 25 apartments had suffered concrete cancer and general deterioration. Access was challenging with two staircases in and out of the building. The brief involved reforming the staircases, upgrading balconies and replacing doors and windows – without residents relocating to temporary accommodation, which required thorough planning from the project team. “Communication with tenants was extensive to say the least. We required tenants to be out of the building at a certain time every day. If they required access, I would personally escort them through the work zone.”

Heritage administration building, Potts Point. This complex heritage restoration saw hazardous materials carefully removed prior to repairing the slate roof and chimney stack – while remaining a working office. “Air flow monitors were used extensively throughout the day to ensure air quality remained pristine. Hospital staff remained in the building while works were carried out, highlighting the importance of preventing disruption of any kind.

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