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Glasgow School of Art Fire

4th September 2015

The Glasgow School of Art (the GSA), which was founded in 1845, is one of Europe’s leading higher education institutions for the visual creative disciplines.

It is internationally recognised as one of Europe’s leading university-level institutions for the visual creative disciplines, and is Scotland’s only public self-governing art school offering university-level programmes and research in architecture, fine art and design.

May 2014 fire

During May 2014, a fire affected the west wing of the famous Mackintosh building just ahead of annual Degree Show. Unfortunately the famous Mackintosh library was lost, along with its furniture and part of the GSA’s rare book collection.

Emergency response – Harris Balcombe

The GSA was quick to assess and understand the magnitude of the fire damage. Given the significance of the Mackintosh building and the complexities involved in rebuilding and restoring it – they knew that specialist support would be needed when it came to handling the insurance claim.

Aware of Harris Balcombe’s good reputation as an insurance claims specialist, the GSA made contact with the firm and took some initial advice. The loss assessor was appointed quickly, and set to work almost immediately – supporting the emergency process which saw Historic Environment Scotland and Museums and Galleries Scotland work with the GSA to undertake recovery of the GSA Archives & Collections, important artefacts and other material from in the building. Meanwhile, Glasgow City Council gave the GSA access to McLellan Galleries to store everything that was retrieved from the Mack.

Managing teams for a speedy resolution

Harris Balcombe’s ongoing role throughout the project was a complex one – maintaining clear and concise communication between the GSA, the insurer and all the professional support and project management teams. Without this, payments and settlement would inevitbaly have been delayed or remained unsettled.

Liability was accepted almost immediately due to the professional relationship and trust Harris Balcombe has with the loss adjusters acting on behalf of the the GSA’s insurers. Nick Balcombe said:

“In this instance, we were pleased with the responsiveness provided by the insurer, Royal Sun Alliance, and the loss adjustor, Crawford. All parties acted quickly, and worked well together to get a speedy resolution. Responses took days, instead of months. This is unusual in any context, but given the sheer complexities of this claim, we were hugely impressed.”

Harris Balcombe relocated senior director, Adrian Gilluly to Glasgow and project lead, Nick Balcombe attended weekly meetings over a one-and-a-half-year period. This high level presence meant that the Harris Balcombe team was able to continually support the GSA. Each day brought fresh challenges.

Before any rebuilding could take place, the fire-damaged areas of the west wing needed to be stabilised. It took the team three months to make the site safe.

Re-locating the school

The most pressing issue was to ensure that the school could be re-opened in September so premises had to be found where 200-300 students could be relocated.

In consultation with staff from the School of Fine Art the GSA’s Estates department considered a number of possible buildings for the students who would normally have been based in the Mackintosh Building. They decided to move to a Glasgow City Council building in Glasgow’s Merchant City. A few days before the beginning of the term the GSA had the temporary (and impressive) facility ready.

The restoration work and outcome

Many of the artefacts that were affected by the fire are now undergoing stabilisation and conservation as part of the restoration. The lecture theatre which is two floors beneath the library was unaffected by the fire, and the timber work which was saved has provided previously unknown insight into the construction of many of the studios.

The Glasgow School of Art took the decision to address the work on the Mackintosh building holistically upgrading the undamaged east wing of the building at the same time as restoring the west wing. Over the last two years all the necessary preparation work has been undertaken. The GSA has appointed design team lead, Page\Park Architects, and the main contractor, Kier Construction Scotland, and work has begun on site. The GSA aims to be back in the building in 2019.

The claim has now been settled, but Royal Sun Alliance and Crawford continue to remain responsive and helpful.

GSA response on the loss assessor support/role

“Without Harris Balcombe the whole claim would have been much slower. This has been a hugely complex insurance claim, and we have felt safe and reassured in their hands. And we would highly recommend them to other organisations that should ever find themselves in a similar situation. The value they add can not be measured.”




At this point, you would hope that your insurance company is there to help but unfortunately this is not the case. We have known families who have felt intimidated by insurers and have been treated as though they have done something wrong, or are in some way to blame for their situation.

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