Housing scheme has overcome obstacles
The building of a 56 unit affordable homes scheme on a town centre brownfield site which is rich in local history is a laudable achievement but by no means unique. However, if awards were won solely on the challenges a project has to overcome, then Trevithick View, in Camborne, would have to build a new annexe to store the trophies.
The story is a long and complex one. The site previously housed the Holman's No 3 Rock Drill works manufacturing compressed air powered drills for the mining and quarrying industries and for 200 years was a major employer for a community steeped in mining history.
The industry declined with the last production line closing in 2001 and the site fell into disuse and then dereliction. While many saw the potential of a town centre site running to over an acre in size, it was proving very difficult to assimilate a modern use with the conservation of rapidly deteriorating, historically significant buildings that would meet with all the stakeholders' approval.
However, before they could start thinking about building anything, the site needed a deep environmental clean up to make it safe for contractors.
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I met with Michelle Foster, director of development for Coastline Housing which acquired the site in 2009 after raising £4.8 million funding from the Homes and Community Agency, the Townscape Heritage Initiative fund and Cornwall Council, with the rest of the £8.5 million Total Scheme Cost coming from Coastline. She was with project manager Letetia Jones, from Norman Rourke Pryme, and James Moran from Truro based architects Lilly Lewarne who had been involved on the site and its enabling work since 2002.
Their collective pride and sense of achievement in delivering this multi-award winning project was clearly underscored by a huge sense of relief verging on disbelief that they had pulled it off so successfully.
Michelle Foster said: "There had been a five year history before Coastline became involved and around seven schemes suggested. We were dealing with a number of buildings each with their own story. The easy options would have been to mothball or to cut out the heritage problem and build the cheapest but there was a real sense of local ownership and a demand for it to be conserved as best as possible."
The dangers on the site were illustrated by architect James Moran, who said: "Previously I had been in a track side building with a colleague and the roof had caved some six hours later. We demolished the building at night under night time possessions in very close liaison with Network Rail."
Letetia Jones added: "We were regularly in a situation where professionally qualified advisers from different stakeholders were fundamentally opposed to a variety of issues. As a result, contractor cost estimates often exceeded budget so we had to do some serious value engineering to get back on track."
By now the site had World Heritage Status and the conservation of some of the buildings had to be undertaken according to UNESCO guidelines in order to preserve the identity of the location. The result is an imaginative mix of new build, conversion and refurbishment.
The gabled Sara's Foundry Wall has been conserved and acts as a central symbol of the location's past glory but propping it and restoring it at the centre of the construction site was yet another huge challenge for the team to overcome.
The neighbouring Burgess Foundry Wall couldn't be saved but a replica, complete with bricks hand made in imperial sizes, now stands as a gateway to new houses overlooking a central communal courtyard.
Regenerating the site required innovative and extensive engineering efforts in façade retention and the safe restoration of roofs, walls, trusses and gable ends on the verge of collapse. Issues such as ceiling and floor heights, parking provision, air circulation and providing level access to dwellings had to be incorporated into the design.
The scheme has successfully delivered much-needed affordable housing with a balanced mix of rented and shared ownership occupation enabling generations of local families to remain in Camborne. The accommodation is bursting with character when compared with many new build social housing projects. Importantly, feedback from residents and from the local community, who were very active and had a significant input and influence on the future use of the site, has been very positive.
None of this would have been possible without a common sense of purpose and the willingness to compromise.
Trevithick View is certainly a good news story for Camborne but also has a wider social impact as a model of regeneration. Sir John Banham who is chairman of the Government backed Future Homes Commission and a member of the Michelmores/Western Morning News Property Awards judging panel was impressed with the scheme, saying: "This is the sort of project that should be built in every town in Cornwall and nationally, too."
Perhaps the more immediate impact is anecdotal. Architect James Moran, who lived and breathed the Trevithick View scheme for more than a decade recounts a recent, "jaw-dropping" moment when he passed through Camborne for the first time in a while. "It was absolutely heaving with people."