A new and more socially-inclusive form of retirement living is being designed and built in High Wycombe, writes Steve Menary.
Retirement housing was once acerbically described in the hit 1980s comedy-drama, Auf Wiedersehen Pet as “A little box before the littlest box of all.”
Since those days however, retirement housing has moved on substantially. Standard downsizing options still proliferate but increasingly residential villages are being created that offer a range of units and tenures.
The Extra Care Charitable Trust (ECCT) is a developer which has been amongst the pioneers of this type of mixed-living retirement housing, which offers not just a range of living options and healthcare support but also provides a social life for residents.
Unlike some of the private companies that are increasingly moving into the development of retirement villages, the ECCT is a registered charity, but one with scale. The trust operates 14 retirement villages and 17 smaller housing schemes across the Midlands and the North and has more in the pipeline.
Until recently, the south of England was almost another country to ECCT but that is changing with the development of the Hughenden Gardens Retirement Village at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
The retirement village is being built on a six-hectare former industrial site, which used to be home to a Broomwade and Compare factory making air compressors, and groundworks contractor McAuliffe carried out extensive remediation before the main building work could start on site with 800 continuous flight augur piles sunk.
The village itself is being designed by Nicol Thomas and built by Galliford Try Partnerships. Both companies have a long track record with ECCT. Nicol Thomas is designing two more retirement villages in the pipeline in Bedford and Bristol, while the Hughenden Gardens Retirement Village will be the eighth project that Galliford Try have worked on for the trust.
Initially, the company’s building division worked for ECCT but with the social housing element an increasingly vital part of projects, the partnerships division first came on board in a joint venture before the partnerships division began taking on projects alone.
Galliford Try also has a track record of providing accommodation in High Wycombe, albeit for a much younger market. Directly behind the retirement scheme is the Hughenden Park Student Village, which Galliford Try’s building division built for Buckinghamshire New University in two phases, starting in 2009.
The second phase opened in 2014 and added 180 new ensuite bedrooms to the 234 built in the first stage. While the standard of accommodation provided for the students will be very different to that in the retirement village, both share similar design features.
Kensington Taylor designed the student accommodation, which features a green roof. Nicol Thomas opted for the same feature for the retirement village, with sedum specified.
Modern retirement living
Nicol Thomas were initially brought on board the project by the client, before being novated by Galliford Try Partnerships after the contractor agreed a design and build contract with ECCT. The practice’s design eschews old ideas of retirement housing for a more modern feel right from the core.
Nicol Thomas director Wendy Griffin explains:
“The design concept focuses on community and social inclusion. The village centre is somewhere for residents to meet and make new friends, or engage in new skills and hobbies. This is located at the entrance into the scheme at ground level, so encouraging residents and friends to travel through it as they walk to their apartment.
“The site area is circa six acres and so this, combined with the unit numbers resulted in the multi-storey design solution. To break down the perceived building mass, blocks of differing heights were designed with the taller blocks located towards the back of the site.”
She describes the approach to materials:
“They are traditional but used in a contemporary arrangement. This allows the building to connect to its context whilst also creating a distinct identity. A lot of natural lighting and ventilation is used to articulate the interior and contributes to a light and airy feel.”
The bulk of the building is a reinforced in situ concrete frame with a small central steel frame with curtain walling specified for most of the public areas and metal features including balconies with aluminium windows.
“There’s brickwork, a huge amount of rendering and curtain walling to the open areas, which is mostly used to get light into the building,” says Tony Butcher, project manager on the scheme for Galliford Try Partnerships.
The curtain walling is being manufactured and installed by West Midlands-based specialist APiC, while MQM is manufacturing and installing the balconies. Both have been specified by Nicol Thomas not just to increase light but produce a more contemporary feel.
“The idea is that the colours will all coordinate. The curtain walling makea the building look more modern and the steelwork is effectively an architectural feature.
“A key feature of the design is that there are a lot of balconies and external doors; a lot of outside space is being created. ECCT wanted quite a modern-looking building – they didn’t want a traditional retirement home.”
The project is being built in eight alphabetically named blocks ranging from four to seven storeys in height.
The two main blocks to either side of the plot are open either to the light or elements with one featuring a glass roof and the other opened up completely. The glazed section has been christened the Winter Garden.
In the centre of the village is a large communal atrium, for which Nicol Thomas specified a steel frame.
“This was due to the span required, as it’s a big open area with an atrium,” explains Butcher.
Inside this atrium at the heart of the project is a village centre, featuring a range of facilities including a shop, bistro and bar, residents’ lounge, hair salon, fitness suite and games room. The area forms a key part of ECCT’s plans to create a community.
Care will be available for residents with dementia or complex mental issues, but prospective buyers only need to be aged 55 or over to buy one of the 260 one and two-bedroom apartments. Expected residents include many people of retirement age who are able to lead a more active life, including plenty of car owners. There are no garages, but there will be 165 car parking spaces.
Design with care in mind
Internally, six different door types are being specified to help differentiate between different floors and give the interior a more exclusive look.
“When you get out of the lift, you want to know you are on the right floor; it’s about street identity,” explains Butcher, who adds that while kitchen designs are still being decided, these may differ from previous ECCT projects.
“ECCT is entering a new market and will have done their market research, but you are in an area where people want more for their money.”
Externally, Nicol Thomas has specified large amounts of block paving and a sustainable urban drainage system but the most complex part of the design to build out from Galliford Try Partnership’s perspective has been the services.
Mr Butcher explains:
“There’s an awful lot of services all run from one plant; there are warden calls and front doors accessed by key cards. There’s a lot of input from the services.”
The first stage due for completion is Section A, which includes the marketing suite and must be ready by February 2017, with the entire scheme due to complete March 2018.
The bigger picture
The scheme is part of a wider regeneration project known as the Hughenden Quarter, which features a number of other projects.
These include a £17m 70-bed care home for the Royal Star & Garter charity designed by Scurr and being built by Stepnell and a 97-unit private residential scheme by Careys New Homes. The regeneration will also open up the amenity of the nearby Hughenden stream to the public. This project is part of Wycombe District Council’s ‘Return of the River’ proposals to return the town’s stream and rivers back into being part of the town’s life and landscape.
This transformation of what was once an industrial wasteland will aim to seamlessly blend the city centre with the nearby Hughenden Manor for the more than 700 people expected to move into the three residential projects, including the retirement village.
Some elements of industry will remain in the area, but a retaining wall will screen these from the retirement village to provide a more intimate feel for this new community in High Wycombe.