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Background.

Set at the foot of Pen Y Fan, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park sits Storey Arms – the iconic, Welsh outdoor education centre.  The centre has become a place of pilgrimage for young people, helping them cultivate stronger relationships with peers and developing their appreciation for nature and the environment while exploring the outdoors.  The centre also offers qualification courses for adults, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to run group activities such as hill walking and rock climbing. 

The Covid pandemic forced a temporary closure of the centre, and forward-thinking Cardiff Council used the opportunity to launch a competitive tender process; in order to refurbish and revitalise this extremely popular destination, safe-guarding and futureproofing it for generations to come. Following the go-to-market process, Powell was awarded the contract. 

Step 1: Design and consultation.

During the consultation period, the Powell team visited Storey Arms in order to conduct a full site-audit, noting existing materials, any potential difficulties, challenges and pitfalls.  The visit was also a welcome opportunity for the team to re-familiarise themselves with the centre – as a number of the team had visited the centre in their youth, as Gareth Knight, Operations Director explains: 

“This was a job I was particularly keen on being involved with.  Having been to the centre as a youngster and made many happy memories there, I had an enlarged sense of responsibility and belonging to the project.  Knowing that my children are also due to be visiting there next year really made this opportunity an exciting one for me, as it’s not often my children are able to see what I do – let alone appreciate it!  While we know the authority was pleased with the work, I’ve no doubt that my children will be the real judges of our work there.” 

Step 2: Construction phase, what we did, and the challenges we faced.

For over half a century, the listed building had housed generations of children and young people, running up and down corridors, swinging on doors and jumping from bunkbeds.  All this had heavily added to the typical wear and tear of a building of this age.  During the strip out, early-on, the team discovered suspected asbestos in tiles below the existing flooring.  Due to the potentially dangerous nature of the tiles, Powell instructed a licenced contractor to test, remove and carefully dispose of the tiles in a responsible manner.  

Continuing the demolition phase, our team removed and replaced outdated hardware, (such as the antiquated LPG boiler and radiators throughout) with modern equivalents.  Moreover, old, copper pipework was replaced with stainless steel mapress connections, further improving efficiency and performance.  The new floorplan was designed to ensure the centre could maximise residence capacity.  With this in mind, Powell determined that a reconfiguration of the heating layout was essential – to ensure the most efficient, carbon-friendly heating arrangement possible.  On this occasion, owing to the remote location of the centre, and to remain comfortably within the local authority’s budget, the aforementioned, high-specification LPG boiler was installed. 

 

Power points and cables were stripped back to the source, allowing old wireworks to give way to new electrical equipment, and new, MF fire-rated plasterboard ceilings replaced the tired, outdated predecessor.  A new lighting system was developed, designed, and installed with a view to providing better performance, efficiency, and with the environment in mind.  Updated fire alarm technology, ensuring the highest possible levels of precautionary measures were built into the mains of the building, and all sockets, light switches and the like were updated to ensure adherence to the latest health and safety guidelines and to ensure the highest green – environmental friendliness.  

A new corridor was created, linking two previously separate parts of the building, and a new vinyl floor was laid throughout, providing a hardwearing, easy to clean surface which also created an improved sense of space and connectivity through the centre.  The new corridor increased the safety of the building and occupants in the unlikely event of an emergency – allowing a clearer, more direct route to fire exists which are also now better lit than ever before.  With new wall partitions erected, increasing the architectural logic and capacity of the building, Powell decorated the space with a modern twist, while retaining the historic, iconic past and remaining sympathetic to the building’s surroundings.  The bright, patterned carpet combined with the neutral walls and white finishes will improve and enhance the natural light, creating a brighter, more comfortable and inviting space for all. 

Step 3: The transformation and client feedback.

Refurbishment of the first-floor accommodation suites and amenities has created a safer and more welcoming environment that will be enjoyed by future generations.  Updated lighting, heating systems and improved health and safety measures will ensure a more comfortable and reassured stay for all. Moreover, the space can now accommodate larger groups, thanks to the new layout and floorplan, which in turn will generate better business returns for the facility and allow more young people to visit, learn and develop themselves to the future. 

Alex Thau, Powell Project Manager for Storey Arms:

“As a much loved and protected building, the challenge for Powell was two-fold:  To retain the history and ‘feeling’ of the space, while making it better suited to modern living, and to overcome the constraints of working on a listed building, while ensuring a complete transformation and update of the site. 

I’m pleased to say that despite the pandemic, the project was delivered on-time and on-budget.  Crucially, Cardiff City Council were so impressed by the transformation of the project, I understand that they are beginning internal conversations to determine whether there is budget to extend the scope of the work to include the wider building.  This is obviously very welcome news and is a testament to all our staff who worked tirelessly on the project.  We are very pleased with the results and hope to return to Storey Arms to extend the works to the entire facility soon.” 

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