Intelligence: 15 November 2019Sweet like chocolate

Steeped in history and loved by locals, the redevelopment of the old Somerdale Cadbury’s Factory was a high profile, politically sensitive project for the region. Here we look at the steps taken by our planners and designers over the last seven years to deliver a high-quality redevelopment and valuable legacy for the local community.

Situated in the historic market town of Keynsham, the old Cadbury’s Factory, ‘Somerdale’, had been a significant local employer since the 1920s, with in excess of 5,000 people at its peak working within the factory and associated works. In 2010 the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s provoked a media storm as another UK household name was lost, and despite reassurances around Somerdale and the protection of Cadbury’s UK manufacturing, the plant was closed shortly after. The impact of lost employment and the subsequent local community concerns around the perceived ‘threat’ redevelopment posed, made this a highly sensitive and politically charged challenge for developers and consultants alike.

Although unlisted, the large factory buildings delivered iconic character and presence to this brownfield site. Retaining and transforming these buildings was therefore a key focus of the development from the start and central to gaining the support of the surrounding community and local authority.

From the outset, several natural and ecological constraints guided the masterplan. As an important river corridor (the River Avon flows to the north of the site), the protection of existing ecology and opportunities for flood alleviation/ protection were early drivers of the layout, while an unexpected discovery of the Roman settlement Trajectus under the playing fields had to be fully considered and protected due to its prompt designation as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Creating a walkable community was key when designing Somerdale, ensuring footpaths with pockets of green space were woven throughout the homes and separate from the road, to enhance permeability and provide green corridors linking homes and the surrounding communities with open space, the river and other key destinations within the development and beyond.

THE IMPACT OF LOST EMPLOYMENT AND THE SUBSEQUENT LOCAL COMMUNITY CONCERNS AROUND THE PERCEIVED ‘THREAT’ OF REDEVELOPMENT, MADE THIS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE AND POLITICALLY CHARGED CHALLENGE FOR DEVELOPERS AND CONSULTANTS ALIKE.

Success throughout this project has relied upon communication and the team implementing a collaborative and iterative design process with client Taylor Wimpey and a broad range of specialists. Beyond the team, holding regular meetings with the Somerdale Working Group and senior Bath and North East Somerset local authority officers ensured proposals were emerging in line with council policy, but also assisted in securing specialist input from across the Council departments on specific technical issues. This was coupled with an exemplar public involvement exercise, utilising a series of stakeholder design workshops and public exhibitions which produced invaluable feedback.

“These sessions were important drivers in our design process,” says James deHavilland, Masterplanning Partner leading the project. “Through the discussion of what made the Cadbury’s site special and the legacy it presented, we established the priorities and the role it played within the community. It wasn’t just a local employer; it provided places for workers and their families to play sport and socialise, and as such it played an important social role in the life and vibrancy of Keynsham. Demonstrating at each stage how our proposals reflected and supported this ongoing role, through not only a sensitive regeneration scheme but also place curation, has enabled us to bring everyone on the design journey from the beginning, ensuring support and excitement about the proposals from the outset.”

Architecturally, retaining the history and incorporating an industrial feel was achieved through a common material language which built upon the old Cadbury’s factory. Converted into high-quality apartments, these buildings have been sensitively redeveloped to retain and reflect the original factory’s parapet and silhouette, while opening their plans up to let high quantities of natural light penetrate.

Across the 90ha site our designers created character areas that built on existing identity and local character to deliver a variety of house typologies, whilst also enabling the site to be realised in three phases. Large, bespoke four/five-bedroom homes were designed along the river walk as a high value area, enabling these properties to make best use of the stunning views from the north eastern quarter.

At the heart of the scheme the new Somerdale Pavilion is a highly valued facility for local residents. Historically, the Fry Club had provided a strong social hub through community activities and a sports club. But a community hub in the 21st century needs to work much harder. So our team approached the design of the building in the same way they would approach a masterplan design. James deHavilland explains: “to ensure a successful multi-functional space was designed we held a design charrette which focussed on how and when the building would be used and how it may more broadly support this emerging community. Using those outcomes, we were able to effectively design for the different areas and functions, incorporating moveable walls to ensure the space became truly multi-functional, working for each end user and ultimately delivering a building that can accommodate multiple activities.”

THE LARGE FACTORY BUILDINGS DELIVERED ICONIC CHARACTER AND PRESENCE, AND RETAINING AND TRANSFORMING THESE BUILDINGS WAS A KEY FOCUS OF THE DEVELOPMENT.

In addition, our graphic communication specialists consulted extensively with the client and community in order to develop a brand that would re-name the former Fry Club and help relaunch it to the community as the new Somerdale Pavilion, defining a new chapter for the centre. The team produced a ‘brand toolkit’ which enabled variations of the core brand to be used for the Pavilion’s many different services and functions such as weddings, sports and corporate events. This new visual identity was applied throughout the building and was integrated into everything from external signage to menus.

Somerdale has proven to be a huge success, with a growing community enjoying the delivery of a quality and liveable neighbourhood that has remained true to its vision, something Design Director Jacques Toerien thinks is key to the project’s success. “The community love their new neighbourhood. Last year we hosted a site visit on behalf of the RTPI and met a number of residents who were thrilled that they had moved there, including an elderly couple who moved from the centre of Keynsham to Somerdale. Having everything on site, including a restaurant, pavilion, river walks and green space and the location - with the train station a short walk away - makes this the perfect area for them to have moved to.”

As the development nears completion, it is exciting to see the legacy of Fry’s and Cadbury’s remain embedded in the site, as it continues to grow into an exciting, accessible and healthy neighbourhood to be part of.

SOMERDALE HAS PROVEN TO BE A HUGE SUCCESS, WITH A GROWING COMMUNITY ENJOYING THE DELIVERY OF A QUALITY AND LIVEABLE NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Somerdale has won the ‘RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence’ category as well as being awarded the overall winner of the RTPI South West Awards. It has now been entered in the national RTPI Awards of Excellence in 2020.

Featured in Update Issue 20.

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