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Brilliant conversion in West Yorkshire wins 2019 practice design awards

Flair and imagination feature prominently once more in the latest biennial competition which honours outstanding designs

10 January 2020, at 9:00am

The results of the 2019 Practice Design Awards, organised by the British Veterinary Hospitals Association (BVHA), were announced at a luncheon in London on 6 December 2019.

The association’s president, Martin Smith, presented certificates and engraved trophies along with vouchers from the competition’s sponsors – Securos Surgical, Gratnells and Veterinary Practice – to representatives from the winning practices, and certificates to the runners-up.

The judges looked for outstanding practical designs, demonstrating flair and innovation, clever and efficient use of space, with a good flow of traffic and first-class facilities for patients, clients and staff. Value for money was also taken into accounts as well as outstanding features deserving of special notice. In particular, the judges looked for “wow” factors in each practice – which all the winners, and many of the other entries, had in abundance.

The BVHA thanks the many practices which entered the award for the time and trouble taken. Interestingly, there were fewer entries than usual from the southern half of England, although London and Essex were represented. All the entries, however, were highly commended by the judges. The next competition will take place in 2021.

The method

All entries received were examined by a panel of judges, mainly from the BVHA, to determine the finalists in each category. The standard of entries once again was very high, making this a lengthy process.

The finalists in each category were visited by a small team armed with judging forms, who marked each practice according to a set protocol to come up with a winner in each of the three categories and then decide on which one they considered the best overall. They were also on the look-out for particular features worthy of a President’s Award, deciding after much discussion to present two this time.

The judges are required to be pernickety and as well as looking for the good points and imaginative problem solving, giving additional marks for ingenuity, they take note of design features they consider unsatisfactory, such as potential bottlenecks, and they deduct marks for “faults” that many would consider very minor in the overall scheme of things.

There is a preference for practices to have, for example, double entry doors, appropriate segregation of dogs and cats in the waiting areas and wards of small animal practices, client areas in full view of staff, clear signage throughout, imaginative décor, operating theatres limited to one table, appropriate isolation wards, appropriate air flows and extraction systems, first-class facilities for both clients and staff, including changing areas for the latter, etc. Clever, imaginative use of space, good value for money and energy-saving and “green” features are also priorities.

There was close marking in all the categories and lengthy deliberations to determine the final result.

The overall winning practice was the winner in the “conversion” category, Paragon Veterinary Referrals of Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

The “new build” category was won by Pool House Equine Clinic of Lichfield; while the “refurbishment” category went to the Vets Now Pet Emergency Hospital in Glasgow.

The BVHA president made two special awards for outstanding design features: the first to The Harrogate Vet in Harrogate for outstanding front-of-house design and appearance; the second to Stanley House Veterinary Group in Colne, Lancashire, for the ingenious development of a period property.

List of winners of the BVHA 2019 Practice Design Awards
List of winners of the BVHA 2019 Practice Design Awards

Conversion lives up to its name to receive top award

This year’s overall winner in the design awards, and winner of the conversion category, was one of the priciest developments, with total costs of nearly £9 million. Not only did the judges rate it as pretty good value for the money spent but they struggled to find any “faults” worth mentioning.

The small animal practice, Paragon Veterinary Referrals – taking its name from the business estate in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, on which it is situated – is part of the Linnaeus Group and opened to clients in February 2018.

The 18,000 square foot building to be converted had lain empty for 10 years and required a small extension on the front to enable the practice to have the spacious reception and waiting areas it required, along with the dispensary and a refreshment station. The glass-fronted two-story add-on looks spectacular from both inside and out, especially at night when the lights are on. There are 40 seats in adjacent waiting areas for canine and feline patients, with some nice touches in the cat area as the practice prides itself on being feline-friendly.

The layout of the entire practice was carefully thought through to provide an excellent flow from one section to another. Clinical facilities on two levels often pose problems in moving patients about but the practice has solved this with both a passenger lift and one of the most spacious, heavy-duty lifts seen in a UK practice for animals and trolleys and other paraphernalia.

The stated design objectives were “to provide a client-friendly layout to accommodate a specialist-led multi-disciplinary service, with the space fitted to the highest possible standards in veterinary care which are directly comparable to human medicine specifications”, the aim being to build on the strengths of the referral team at Calder Vets, its sister practice.

There are eight consulting rooms and five operating theatres in addition to several procedure rooms in this practice which deals with the following specialisms: anaesthesia and analgesia, cardiology, dermatology, diagnostic imaging, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, orthopaedic surgery and soft tissue surgery. Staff include (at the time of sending in the entry form) 19 veterinary surgeons, 41 veterinary nurses, and 21 in reception and administration.

Clear signage throughout and an imaginative colour scheme and banding system are among the eye-catching features, which include electronic messaging boards, massive amounts of storage space, excellent lighting, top-class laundry and sterilising facilities and the best staffroom seen in this year’s competition. There are easy-to-clean high-pressure laminate work surfaces throughout, and BioClad uPVC wall protection sheets and encapsulation to doors also boost cleanliness and durability.

Environmentally-friendly features include a Puro Type 3 reverse osmosis water purification system which is said to remove 99 percent of contaminants from main feed water, a roof-mounted air plant which delivers compressed, clean air to patient care areas and also powers air-powered equipment, light motion sensors switch off lights in areas not in use and tinted glass windows minimise heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

Design flair is evident throughout the practice which judges rated a clear winner in its category as well as deserving of the top prize.

Rock face a feature in Cumbrian mixed practice

Runner-up in the conversion category was a highly unusual mixed practice in the hilly village of Lindale, Cumbria, which had taken over premises which began as a car showroom before being used as a warehouse. Owned by husband and wife Jeremy and Mandy Voakes, Archway Vets is currently 70 percent small animal, 10 percent large animal and 30 percent equine.

At a cost of just over £1.6 million, the practice moved from the 50-year-old premises it had outgrown to what the owners describe as their perfect location, with more space both inside and out and room to expand into physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, with treatment rooms for both. This area, at one end of the building, incorporates a startling natural rock face – part of the original building – with two waterfalls and plants which create a calming atmosphere.

This is a superb conversion on a tricky site and might well have been a category winner had the competition not been so stiff.

Outstanding equine premises win new build category

Take a 12-acre site with plenty of room for a 1,300 square metre building and parking for at least 14 horse boxes, 50 cars and stabling, and produce outstanding equine practice premises while keeping the original practice running on the same site.

That was the challenge for the Pool House Equine Clinic in Lichfield, Staffordshire, when it set about transforming its existing site, with a completely new building at the heart of it.

The entire development cost a little over £2 million. The partners wanted a building that was functional and “spoke of quality care without being ostentatious or overtly extravagant”, with improved working conditions, room to cope with two major surgical cases at any time, plus space to expand the provision of CPD and also provide quality EMS for students.

The new building, which opened in June 2018, incorporates a spacious, comfortable and air-conditioned waiting room, two consulting rooms, a separate client meeting room for private discussion of cases, two operating theatres and a further “standing” theatre, a separate dental theatre, a 59-seat lecture theatre and a small seminar room, a “health and fitness” room for staff as well as a large and comfortable kitchen and quiet area and even three bedrooms for students. In addition, there are two emergency care/holding stables, three stable yards external to the building, 25 stables and a separate external isolation unit with four stables.

The new building is some five times larger than the old one, which is being converted to provide staff accommodation – particularly for interns and residents, tack rooms, a yard office and canteen for the yard staff.

All hot water is generated by air source heat pumps and the roof has been designed for 84 solar panels to augment the practice’s existing solar farm. The building is so well insulated, says the practice, that the unheated clinical corridor remains warm throughout the winter.

Among the advice which the practice would give to others considering such a project is: “Visit the site every day – it is astonishing what can be going wrong, rooms being built without doorways, for example.”

One judge commented that everything indicated quality of design and finishes from the artwork to the quality of the decorating to the worktops.

Energy conservation a priority for Lancashire mixed practice

Craig Robinson Vets, a mixed practice in Carlisle – 50 percent small animal, 45 percent large and 5 percent equine – were the runner ups for the new build category.

Operating since 1898, they wanted new premises alongside the main road into the city from the west. Having acquired the site, the design objectives included: the entrance to the site and waiting room to feel welcoming, the building to be compatible with hospital status with on-site accommodation, a logical layout within the surgery – and, where possible, future-proofed with room to expand.

The £1.5 million two-storey development, with a total floor area of 805 square metres, was built with “practical energy conservation” in mind. Lighting in the corridors, toilets and storeroom has “presence detection” while there is “absence control” in the consulting rooms. The building is heated and cooled by a heat-recovery, variable refrigerant system, with an air-source heat pump at its heart. This system can recover heat from any area requiring cooling and send it to another room requiring heating. The pump is said to operate at “average seasonal efficiencies” of 300 percent.

The practice said it had learnt that buildings don’t have to be rectangular: having devised a floorplan and tried to arrange all the rooms into a rectangular footprint, they were later advised that a rectangular shape is the worst to fit everything into, with an L shape (for example) being much easier.

Another piece of advice for others considering such a project: visit other surgeries and ask what they like and don’t like about them – they are usually happy to spare you the time.

Refurbishment: practice wins at second time of asking

It’s very rare for a practice to enter the design awards twice – and even rarer to be a finalist on both occasions. Back in 2011, VetsNow Referral Practice in Glasgow entered a category for new referral practice premises; this was shortly after it had converted a wine shop in North Street into a 24-hour referral clinic.

Eight years and four competitions later, the practice, now owned by Independent Vetcare (IVC), has undergone a radical refurbishment at a cost of nearly £1.9 million and been renamed Vets Now Emergency Ltd.

Where it previously had all its clinical facilities on the ground floor and not much upstairs, it has reduced the clinical content on the lower level and constructed brilliant facilities on the first floor.

The practice now has excellent and practical working conditions for its staff complement of 18 full-time and 10 part-time veterinary surgeons, 32 full-time and five part-time nurses, plus a total of 23 full-time and six part-time kennel staff, receptionists and administrators.

The refurbishment has enabled a considerable de-cluttering of the ground floor, opening up the waiting area with a dedicated and well-demarcated room for cats and six consulting rooms leading off it. Behind the scenes, in addition to the pharmacy, are an ICU ward and critical work area which receives patients for the growing emergency and critical care (ECC) caseload. There’s also a spacious and comfortable quiet room.

Upstairs are superbly, and logically, laid out, well-equipped clinical areas. The aim was to ensure that, where possible, there was an open-plan working environment, with glass walls where necessary to enhance that appearance. This also, says the practice, encourages a collaborative approach of working between departments.

In addition to its ECC work, the practice deals with orthopaedic surgery, soft tissue surgery, oncology and internal medicine, in addition to diagnostic imaging, including radiography, ultrasonography and CT.

A lift, with specially designed trolleys, takes patients between the floors. There’s also, of course, a staircase though this could do with a wee bit of refurbishment – perhaps in the next phase of development.

Overall, the practice has created a great working environment and top-class facilities for clients, patients and staff, the well-planned and imaginative refurbishment making it a worthy category winner.

Ambitious refurbishment both a runner-up and special award winner

The Stanley House Veterinary Group refurbishment was a very ambitious project. The premises encompass around 4,500 square feet and the total cost was not far short of £700,000, with the building costs alone in excess of £600,000.

The long-established practice in the Lancashire market town of Colne, with a population approaching 20,000, occupies a substantial stone-built house, well over a hundred years old, in the town centre. It has expanded into a neighbouring small retail property but to increase its facilities needed to bring the spacious basement/cellar area into full use.

A fine surgical suite has been located there, along with a laundry and other facilities, enabling a considerable reconfiguration of the ground floor. The practice now has the capacity to double clinical throughput.

Interesting challenges were posed by the existing load-bearing walls but clever, ingenious design has led to a very practical layout. Lighting in the basement area is provided by surface-mounted 600mm modular LED panels which give a brilliant daylight effect in an area deprived of natural light.

One judge commented that it is hard to over-estimate the achievement in creating this bright and comfortable area in the old cellar areas with its separate theatres and plenty of other working space. Others commented on the vision and ingenuity required to develop the space, one stating it was an amazing achievement.

The judges declared this to be an outstanding refurbishment of a period property – placing it as runner-up in this category but giving it a President’s Award for its remarkable ingenuity.

President’s Award for striking front-of-house appearance

Such was the outstanding nature of the entries that the judges decided to make two President’s Awards: the first to The Harrogate Vet for outstanding front-of-house design and appearance; the second, as stated above, to the Stanley House Veterinary Group for the ingenious development of a period property.

The former is the brainchild of Katherine Jacklin, who graduated from the RVC in 2012 and opened the doors of this (currently) one-vet practice last November. The 1,300 square feet premises in the middle of a row of shops in Leeds Road, Harrogate was previously used as a massage parlour.

The stated aim was “to create a practice that was an attractive, comfortable and inviting place for both clients and pets … avoiding a ‘clinical’ or ‘medical’ atmosphere in the reception and consultation rooms, at the same time maintaining a clean, professional and practical space”.

This has been achieved with some striking features: a plain and simple reception desk – a hand-made wooden table behind which is a coffee machine that, in Katherine’s words, fills the area with the smell of coffee rather than disinfectant, neatly defined areas for waiting dogs and cats with comfortable leather chairs, distinctive lighting, porcelain floor tiles and quartz worktops and all sorts of knick-knacks to keep both clients and patients occupied. There is eye-catching signage on the large front window carried through into the reception area, with an imaginative and cheerful colour scheme.

Decorations include colourful pictures on the walls, with a map showing local pet-friendly cafés, shops and businesses. Low-key merchandising includes the practice’s own brand pet food, locally produced dog and cat treats as well as collars and other items and eco-friendly toys for pets. Overall, it “wowed” the judging panel.

Katherine’s vision is spelt out on the practice website: “When you go to the vets you should feel welcome. You should sit in a comfortable chair with a warm cup of coffee and have a chat, or when you need it, a hug. Your pet should have a tasty treat and a pat on the head. Neither of you should feel rushed or hurried or uncomfortable.