Oct 24, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

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The Heart of Worcestershire College’s new campus at Provender Mill is situated on a busy junction in the north-east corner of Worcester, overlooking the River Severn.


The former furniture store was previously owned by Russell and Dorrell – a well-known local business and landmark. In 2011 the three-storey building was bought by Worcester College of Technology with the aim of creating a new campus prior to their merge with North East Worcestershire College, which formed the new Heart of Worcestershire College in August 2014.


Now one of the largest private building contractors in the West Midlands, Speller Metcalfe was selected as main contractor for the high profile scheme. A two-stage project, the contractor was highly involved from design stage alongside KKE Architects to eliminate uncertainties, advise on buildability issues and undertake value engineering.

Initial design concerns by the College were how the internal layout and fit-out was going to be put to best use; overall the scheme was aimed at enhancing facilities for practical training but there was uncertainty regarding suppliers and product types. A lot of time was spent facilitating decision-making and obtaining catalogues and prices on products such as specialist tables, chairs and lighting. The latter saw the entire design team accompany the College to a lighting manufacturer in nearby Redditch who were chosen as the new, local supplier situated within 30 miles of site – a big cost reduction from the original Italian manufacturer.

The College also had a scheme of bespoke furniture costed for specialist subjects such as Hair & Beauty – priced at £180,000 and made up of 50% new stock and 50% recovered furniture from the College. Following negotiations, Speller Metcalfe enabled the College to buy off-the-shelf products from REM, one of UK’s largest beauty salon providers. This saved around £40,000 and enabled the College to deliver a ratio of 90% new stock to 10% recovered. The Mechanical & Electrical cost savings also enabled a further £40,000 of value engineering at design stage.

Archaeological findings

Originally the site had existed adjacent to St Clement’s Church and graveyard, which is no longer in existence. In the 1950s the site was acquired by Worcestershire Farmers and Provender Mill was built as the farmers mill and storage unit – adjoining what had since become the cattle market – before being converted into the furniture store at a later date.

Following planning approval, conditions were put in place to safeguard any buried archaeological remains and Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service (part of Worcestershire County Council) was appointed to undertake excavation of the site.

Within the excavation, post-medieval graveyard soil was revealed along with a large quantity of human bone remains – equating to at least 10 individuals buried on the site. As well as the graveyard, the medieval city wall had previously been discovered running through the east side of the existing building during excavations for a lift pit in 2003. This corresponded with cartographic evidence showing the projected line of the city wall in the 19th century – surviving 1.5 metres below ground level, and it is now marked by a de-marker line running through the campus floor.

Construction phase

Following the two year project, a range of facilities and classrooms now form the new St Dunstan’s campus. These include Health & Beauty training rooms and a commercial salon, a Fashion, Art & Design multimedia suite, textiles workshop, screen printing and a cutting room. Alongside provision for these courses, the campus also incorporates a Travel Agent, staff offices and cafe facilities.

Prior to its refurbishment, the steel-framed building stood on concrete foundations and incorporated timber flooring on the first and second floors. The three-storey building also housed four concrete staircases; the two middle staircases were subsequently removed and infilled to create a bigger floor plan leaving a staircase at each end of the building.

The existing steel columns were left in place while all internal walls were removed and replaced with permanent acoustic partition walls and three additional acoustic partition folding walls – enabling two smaller rooms to become one larger room around various parts of the building. The entire existing structure was also made fireproof alongside some minor additions to the framework to support heavy mechanical plant during construction and the folding partition walls.

Externally the traditional, solid masonry walls were upgraded thermally by a system of fixing the insulation to the outside of the brickwork and then rendering it with Alsecco – a method used in the upgrade of old buildings and in particular housing stock. The roof was then stripped back to its existing trusses and fitted with new metal purlins and a Kingspan insulated roof deck system.

Finally, Speller Metcalfe undertook the full fit-out of works and following completion in September 2014, the College has a building delivering state-of-the-art facilities for students in the heart of Worcester.

Achieving BREEAM Very Good

Overall the project received a BREEAM Very Good score of 61%; Speller Metcalfe is well regarded for their sustainable expertise and in 2014 delivered the highest rated BREEAM project in the world for Western Power Distribution, achieving an unprecedented 101.9% post-completion.

To achieve the Very Good rating at Provender Mill, the team secured an impressive air test result of 10 air changes per hour – a challenge when refurbishing older properties. Acoustic ratings were all to BB93 requirements and every room attained the required less than 40 decibel limit. The mechanical plant utilises the highest efficiency condensing boilers for hot water and heating and overall 100% of credits were obtained within the materials section of the assessment.

A Building Management System was also installed that automatically controls all heating, ventilation and some key lighting areas. This is linked back to the main Estates team where energy and 105m² of photovoltaic roof panel production is monitored and controlled, allowing the team to compare energy usage to other building stock.


Working within an existing building always has its challenges, and at Provender Mill one such difficulty was bringing in and fitting materials within the existing floor to ceiling heights and window lines. In particular, the M&E first fit was difficult negotiating the existing ductwork in the ceiling voids when trying to fit new ceilings to the existing ones.

The rendering process also proved difficult as it had to be undertaken during winter due to project programme; because of the cold temperatures the rendering struggled to go off and set. The cold can also have a destructive effect on the construction of the render, ultimately breaking it down and leaving it unusable. To overcome this challenge, Speller Metcalfe worked on the warmest days and protected the scaffolding using reinforced plastic sheets to keep the majority of weather at bay. The building also twists quite substantially and it was almost an optical illusion to ensure the walls were level and render lined up due to the imbalance of the original facade.

However, the biggest problem the site experienced is notorious in Worcester – flooding. Not only does Provender Mill sit within a busy junction with limited room for deliveries and manoeuvre, the building is only metres from the River Severn which has produced a spate of flooding over the last few years.

In February 2014, the BBC reported Worcester as ‘a city under siege’ and Provender Mill was no different, suffering from up to half a metre of floodwater and two weeks site closure; once cleaned up, trades remobilised and damaged materials reordered this turned into a month off programme. Following the incident Speller Metcalfe subsequently added in additional drainage to help release the flow of future floodwater.

Client collaboration

As part of the project, Speller Metcalfe used Provender Mill as a platform to provide learning opportunities for a range of courses; Graphics students worked with Speller Metcalfe’s marketing department to rebrand the Worcestershire Construction Apprentice Academy – an independent charity set up by the contractor to improve apprenticeship opportunities locally.

The design students produced new logos, a website rebrand and marketing merchandise across a six month module for the Academy, which saw two teams go head-to-head for the opportunity to have their work put into production.

On site the team worked with engineering students and other trade subjects to deliver progressive site visits, alongside apprenticeships that were delivered through sub-contractors. The site operatives were also given free haircuts throughout the project by Hair & Beauty trainees, with the overall project achieving impressive Considerate Constructors Scheme scores of 40 and 43 out of 50. Following their work at Provender Mill and other registered projects, Speller Metcalfe has since been appointed an Associate Member of the Considerate Constructors Scheme.

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