Every now and then we get the opportunity to make a massive difference to other people’s lives. This was the case with a project close to my heart – and literally a six-minute walk from my home.
Whirlow Hall Farm functions as both a farm and an educational trust, established by Michael Hill and Alan Aikin back in 1979. Both understood the importance of outdoor learning, particularly to children who struggle in mainstream education. They set out to create a place in the countryside where children from challenging backgrounds could learn and grow, now supporting more than 10,000 young visitors annually.
Their programmes inspire, nurture and expand horizons for young people and helps them make the most of their potential, particularly those who are excluded or at risk of exclusion from mainstream education. Activities are geared at those with additional educational needs to help them develop life skills, grow in confidence and reduce their risk of isolation. Via school trips and residential visits, young people are afforded an opportunity to learn in a great environment and strengthen bonds with classmates and teaching staff. The programme is also extended to college students, helping them fulfil the practical elements of agriculture and environmental qualifications.
Most of these young visitors will not have spent much time at a farm or in the countryside. For them, holding a newly-hatched chick, bottle feeding a new-born lamb or seeing a pig with her piglets can be an unforgettable experience. No doubt many of their lives will change forever.
All of this made it very rewarding to have played a key role in designing a new café in one of their existing barns. The café will be a new destination at the farm – expanding the food and beverage choice on offer, offering better accessibility for people of all needs and abilities, and helping shape a financially sustainable future.
The new café proposal came after the existing one was considered too small to provide for the number of visitors. Further, access to the current café is limited with only step access to the upper seating area and not enough seats to accommodate the crowds. As the external walls are not thermally insulated, the internal temperature is uncomfortably low in colder seasons. Visitor surveys have reflected these concerns.
This project is a great example of sustainable architecture. Repurposing the existing barn will give the farm a new lease of life, while both protecting and enhancing its historic character. With this in mind, we took great care and respect in our approach. This including having a full understanding of the existing building and its fabric to make sure its most important qualities were retained and celebrated while it was able to function its best potential. Making the building work for itself instead of against itself was fundamental.
As Whirlow Hall Farm is a working farm, the approach to the new café’s interior design was pragmatic and straightforward. We proposed using durable, sustainably-sourced materials. With full height glazed sliding doors along the whole south elevation, the new café will maximise the views over the countryside and playground. Natural materials like concrete, timber, steel and glass will create a neutral canvas in which simple colours and signage add vibrancy. The design will re-use some existing features, like the exposed barn trusses and the timber beams to create a new cantilever. This covered outdoor space will prevent overheating in the summer while providing shelter on mild weather days. The original barn doors are to be re-used between the café and the refurbished shop.
With strong community support, the project recently secured planning consent, moving the new café one step closer to realisation. The locals are pleased with the proposals, and being a local myself, I cannot wait for construction to start. I am looking forward to the day when the new café opens, and I am able to enjoy a decent Yorkshire brew with cake, overlooking the playground and watching my children coming down the slide for the one hundredth time. Then, I will know that this project is not just a great food and beverage outlet, but will play a key role in ensuring the future of a great establishment.