Retirement accommodation reaches a new level – Wadswick Green, Corsham, Wiltshire

As the affluent baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, there’s growing demand for attractive, spacious retirement accommodation that can also meet changing healthcare needs. Ray Philpott looks at one project that tackled the challenge.

Older people who are capable of independent living often find them- selves moving into comfortable, retirement homes only to face a disruptive shift to care-based accommodation when their health begins to fail.

There might be suitable accommodation at their existing residence but often it means moving to another address. Either way, such accommodation is most likely to be designed more for delivering efficient care than providing a pleasant lifestyle.

Wadswick Green is different. It’s been designed to provide attractive, high-quality modern accommodation offering independent living that can also be easily and practically adapted for changing care needs, enabling over-55s to enjoy interactive, communal life in the spacious home they bought for as long as possible.

The landscaped 25-acre residential estate sits in a picturesque stretch of countryside between Bath and Chippenham on the site of Royal Arthur Park, a former Royal Navy training station at Corsham in Wiltshire that closed in 1993. The 221-apartment, £60m scheme gained planning permission in 2009 with Phase 1 starting in Jan 2014 and completing in November 2015.

The site rises gently north to south, surrounded on three sides by rolling countryside with ancient woodland to the west. A central, three-storey pavilion and an adjoining catering and entertainment build- ing is set against the woods, well below the treeline to avoid dominating the site.

Radiating out from the pavilion is a series of two and three-story apartment buildings, laid out to form five triangular, landscaped courtyards rotating around the centre but significantly separated from it.

Vital element

Wadsworth Green is a project close to the heart of architect Dale Jennings, owner of Pencil and Ink, who was approached about the project by client Rangeford Holdings in early 2007.

“We had a large space to play with, giving us the opportunity to take a different approach to prevailing retirement and care home concepts,” he says. “In essence, we’re providing highly flexible care provision for people living in spacious, high-quality homes, designed to promote communal living in beautiful grounds.

“The care aspect is a vital underpinning element of the Wadsworth Green’s concept. Unlike other places, we’ve avoided creating differing types of accommodation desig- nated for ‘independent living’, ‘assisted care’ or ‘extra care – all apartments are specifically designed to adapt to residents changing care needs.”

All apartments are fully wheelchair acces- sible and designed to accommodate a hospital-style bed with Rangeford providing the full range of care available in a typical care home.

Jennings adds:

“Uniquely the combination of site and staff creates a therapeutic environment where people, even with challenging conditions like dementia, can be supported and lead independent lives despite significant care needs.

Should their health begin to fail the vast majority of residents can stay in the homes they bought, unless they require constant specialist support.”

Plans to further enhance medical support include building two doctor’s surgeries operated by local GPs as Wadswick Green’s population expands.

Social interaction

With the scheme placing a strong emphasis on community-based lifestyle, significant opportunity for social interaction has been designed in.

Much of this is centred around the recep- tion, library, spa and 14-metre swimming pool in the main Pavilion building and the lively restaurant and bar areas, known as ‘The Greenhouse’ where indoor events are also held. In good weather, outdoor events are staged on the entrance plaza.

“The restaurant and bar interiors were designed to high standard by the Lovely Pubs group, to create a lively, atmospheric venue that is offered to local people as a bookable destination venue in its own right,” says Jennings.

“The outer apartments are based on Oxbridge-style ‘courtyard living’, where people can meet and talk in the triangular grounds. Apartment balconies overlook the courtyards where people can sit and feel involved with the daily goings on.”

Residents have opportunities to mix with members of the local community, who have free access to the grounds via the country roads and footpaths linked to it. Dog walkers, ramblers and people from the nearby villages regularly use the wooded, parkland-style grounds, and are encouraged to use the central facilities and participate in social events.

A golf buggy service moves people around the site and a regular ‘on demand’ bus service is available for trips outside the estate.

Courtyard living

Each courtyard captures unique views and that defines its individual character, rather than varying architecture or colour schemes. Between 45 and 50 apartments form the two long staggered sides of each courtyard, with natural countryside completing the triangle,” explains Jennings.

The rare benefit of having lots of land available has been exploited to spread the accommodation out, making it more spacious, elegant and attractive to live in. This contrasts with many residential care homes where accommodation is typically concentrated in a few buildings adjoining the centre, primarily designed for delivering care.

Architecturally, the courtyard apartments are unashamedly modern but utilise tradi- tional materials such as brick, render and timber to give them a soft, familiar finish. Critically, the apartments are built around staircases, forming a series of staggered blocks to create the triangular courtyards. There are no communal corridors,but stair- wells and shared hall areas are lit by skylights.

Jennings says:

“The aesthetics of the two and three-storey courtyard apartments are inspired by Eshrick House, a classic 1960s flat-roofed woodland home by American architect Louis Kahn. It’s finished with simple materials and beautiful joinery and features a double-height living room and huge glazed windows. I wanted to capture the spirit and feel of that building.

“All courtyard apartments are spacious with elegant proportions featuring large areas of glazing at both ends of a wooden-floored lounges, so there’s plenty of light and interior finishes are of superior quality.

“The supporting red brick walls are built in Flemish bond for a more interesting appearance. All the buildings have flat roofs, the taller ones featuring single-ply membranes. Lower-lying buildings, usually on the edges of the development next to parkland, have sedum roofs sympathetic to their location.”

At one end of the lounges a large picture window offers superb countryside views. On the exterior these windows are framed by tall, eye-catching, white-rendered rectangular features sitting proud of the walls. At the other end of the lounges glazed doors lead to wide, flush-floor balconies with hardwood railings overlooking the courtyards.

“You get two experiences in one room: a private sense of escape with the countryside view and visibility and engagement with the neighbourhood at the balcony end,” says Jennings.

Various strengths of low-e glass provide solar control, depending on the orientation of the building, while ventilation and cooling is achieved through opening double-glazed windows. Underfloor heating is provided, powered by central gas-fired boilers serving the whole site.

Central buildings

Structurally, the central, three-storey Pavilion holds communal facilities including the 20-metre swimming pool and spa, hair- dressing service and reception, plus back-of- house facilities such as laundry, staff chang- ing rooms and a small number of offices. Above it are two floors containing 24 well-appointed one and two-bedroom hotel-style apartments with balconies.

With a 12,000 ft² footprint, the Pavilion is constructed from modular concrete slab up to the first floor clad with vertical cedar boarding and the two floors above made from a Metsec metal stud and joist system finished with modular brick cladding and a flat, single-ply membrane roof.

“Overall, it’s a fairly simple structure enhanced by The Greenhouse to the front of it,” says Jennings. This is a 3,000 ft² single- storey, glass-sided structure containing the restaurant and bar, two terraces, one covered and one completely open, overlook- ing a communal plaza. “We’ve used a single-ply membrane to look like a traditional rolled lead roof on the Greenhouse.”

Internally, the Greenhouse features timber framing with floor to ceiling, aluminium-framed glazing with doors that Wood cladding and reclaimed stone walls feature on an external terrace overlooking a communal plaza open to provide natural ventilation and a timber soffit to the brise soleil around its perimeter.

Rural spirit

The mature, parkland-style landscaping is central to the spirit of the place and capitalises on the rural location, with the layout designed where possible around existing mature trees.

Residents even have their own private access road, a leafy 1 km lane with passing points and country estate-style fencing.

Natural golden coloured Cotswold stone, dug up during construction, is reused to build low walls and low-lying ancillary buildings with sedum roofs, complemented by garden-style plantings and beds often used to increase privacy for ground floor homes.

Paved footpaths form an attractive network of walkways lit by subtle, wooden- posted LED downlighters designed to minimise light pollution although in appropriate locations trees are also subtly up-lit as a visual feature.

The grounds also contain two visually appealing natural wildlife ponds, containing protected great crested newts. They have been carefully planted to deter casual access, while two roosts have been specifi- cally built for the common pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats native to the site.

With so much thought going into the concept, layout and architectural design, Jennings is confident that the Wadswick Green model works.

He comments:

“The other day a resident’s daughter said to me, ‘My mum has never been happier than she is here now.’ For me, that’s the true measure of success.

PROJECT DETAILS

Client: Rangeford Holdings
Lead architect: Dale Jennings, Pencil and Ink
Managing architect: CMS Group
Main contractor: Morgan Sindall Landscape: Churchman
Interior design: Aqua Platinum (Spa) Lovely Pubs (Greenhouse)
Structural and civil engineers: Hydrok
Services: Jones King

FACTFILE: WADSWICK GREEN

Total development area: 25 acres
Residents: up to 400
Central community building footprint: 12,000 ft²
Luxury courtyard apartments:90 (phase 1)
Two-bed courtyard apartment:1,200-1,500 ft²
Standard retirement flats: 75
Phase 1 completion:November 2015
Car parking: 1 space per resident (at accommodation), 50 staff and visitor spaces