The Story of Buckden’s Living Stones

ICE award logo

We are delighted to report that in 2012 the Buckden’s Living Stones project won an East of England Merit Award for Physical Achievement from the Institution of Civil Engineers.  This was followed a few months later by two more regional awards, this time from Constructing Excellence, for Heritage and Value. This is a fantastic achievement and a tribute to all the professionals and volunteers who made the vision a reality.

This was not the end of the awards, because in October 2015, four of the Civil Engineers engineers in our congregation, went up to London to share in a national award ceremony at their Institution headquarters, accompanied by their wives.  In 2014, a technical paper writing up the construction of the Living Stones Rooms was published  in the Institution’s municipal proceedings and a copy was put in the bookshelf at the back of church. Around 800 such papers are submitted each year. To everyone’s surprise, this was one of seven singled out for a Telford Premium Award. This means that the paper has been made freely available on the ICE virtual library for all to read, internationally and ‘in perpetuity’.    This is in addition to the three regional awards already received for the project. All four awards are being held in the photographs below.

Here’s the story of the project:

St Mary’s Church lies at the heart of the lively village of Buckden. Built in the 13th century the church is central to village life but had no rooms for groups to meet and no toilet facilities, thus the vision was born to create a meeting space that would accommodate the requirements of the community.

The project was launched in 2004; deciding on a suitable site for the extension was difficult and was the subject of much controversy. The proposed site for the extension was particularly awkward both physically and historically; physically because it is long and thin and was encumbered by successively enlarged buttresses, and historically because the building is Grade I listed and adjacent to the scheduled historic monument of Buckden Towers. As such, much tenacity was required to satisfy government and church authorities, the stipulation being that the development should be externally indistinguishable from the original construction and not be visible from the road.

The strip of land between the North wall of the church, the historic boundary wall and the Towers moat was overgrown and virtually unusable due to the presence of the three very large buttresses and graves. This nevertheless was the only area where development was deemed acceptable and through carefully worked out structural solutions and their methodical implementation, it was deemed feasible that the buttresses could be temporarily removed, and replaced with smaller ones. Our professional team worked with the church to cleverly fit the facilities into the space whilst enhancing the appearance of the neglected area. The extension would provide a, meeting room, kitchen, and accessible WC and level wheelchair access. Access was achieved by reopening the old north doorway which itself was a major challenge as a large scheduled monument hung over the opening. This could not be moved which severely limited the headroom and applied large torsional loading. To transfer loading a complex steel support system was designed by our team and concealed within the timber and stone façade.

Due to the church wall leaning 300mm and the perceived risk of adapting the buttresses in a very constricted site, the project was considered risky and logistically challenging; few quotes were received and were all over budget. This was a major stumbling block for the project, however with five chartered civil engineers within the congregation the bold decision was taken to form a limited company run by the congregation with the chartered civil engineers acting as directors. This allowed self delivery, better use of Lean construction and closer control over key risks saving £100k (over 25% of the project cost).

As the end user and contractor were the same people a deep understanding existed which meant that the value stream was already integral to the project process helping to drive down all types of waste and increase value. For example by understanding the financial restrictions, as cash availability varied depending on fundraising activities, programme was adjusted accordingly. Church members and volunteers, including a special needs person, were mobilised to hand dig, blind, mix and lay concrete and included residents of Buckden not involved with the church itself, but keen to help.

The ladies formed a weekly group that cleaned the old stones and bricks enabling us to re-cycle original materials, leading to a reduction in waste and contributing to the Lean approach. We were also able to use the skill of local artisans who often donated time or worked at cost with the volunteers to construct the superstructure ensuring that English Heritage guidelines were followed. This meant that a real sense of pride developed and ensured that the project was a true community achievement which helped keep the project within budget. Due to the irregularity of the existing walls, a solution was devised by resequencing the works and using piles. A real time monitoring system was fixed to the leaning wall of the church to check for any movement. A tripod rid was used to drive 6m tubular steel piles through the disturbed ‘burial strata’ into competent ground. A reinforced concrete floor slab was cast, stepping around the buttresses; by pumping a self levelling concrete over the church roof.

False work was erected to support the church wall from the piled slab allowing the buttresses to be removed. The slab was extended under the buttress locations before small buttresses were constructed which supported the wall. This engineered solution enhanced the long term stability of the church.

Ensuring that a strong and positive Health and Safety culture existed throughout the project was of paramount importance, it was decided that even the most basic health and safety knowledge could not be assumed and therefore before entering the site the health and safety director ensured that every person, including volunteers, was given a site and task specific induction. We are very proud to state that no lost time injuries occurred on this technically challenging site where significant heavy manual construction was executed by a workforce unfamiliar with the environment and work methods. This we feel demonstrates the safety awareness engendered within the team.

Key Lessons Learnt relevant to these works;

– Never give up hope
– Close financial control
– Define the project risks early and manage them
– Team working ethic
– Dogged determination of engineers with vision can create solutions where others see obstacles.

These have been communicated to team, client and congregation through regular briefings.

In summary; the team has created a building that will last for 100’s of years to benefit the church and village. We have created a hugely valued space out of a neglected congested wasteland and we believe it demonstrates what is possible when a combined professional team is integrated with a visionary project company  driven by chartered civil engineers. However, great design in this case required great determination to overcome substantial physical challenges enabling the development of a high quality facility valued by the whole community. In use the development has exceeded the expectations of the congregation and significantly enhanced the versatility of the building.

Architect: David Joy, J G P Architects, 2 Felton Street, Cambridge, CB1 2EE, 01223 353471

Engineer Paul Riddington, PD Consulting Engineers Ltd, Newton House, Cambridge Road, Barton, Cambridge, CB23 7WJ, 01223 264688

Contractor: Buckden’s Living Stones (Construction) Ltd, 10 St Hugh’s Road, Buckden, St Neots, Cambridgeshire, PE19 5UB, 01480 812012

Chartered Civil Engineer volunteers from the congregation

Peter Brittain Managing Director, Buckden’s Living Stones (Construction) Ltd
Robin Gibson Safety Director, Buckden’s Living Stones (Construction) Ltd
Richard Noble
Ken Gray
Philip Miles

Other Contractors

A B Carpentry & Joinery Ltd
Borehole Solution Site Investigation Ltd
Bripat Engineering Ltd
British Gas
Cambridge Dynamics Limited
Christopher Bates
Christopher Dunphy Ecclesiastical Ltd
Conservation Engineering Limited
Crusaders Scaffolding Ltd
D P Hadfield
Defined Plastering
E-Bound AXA Ltd
East Anglian Piling (Boston) Ltd
Fuel Installation Services Ltd
G S Floors
Hazell Flooring
Hibbitt & Sons
JDS Surfacing
JJR Site Investigation
John McFadyen
Kimbolton Restoration Ltd
King Electrical
Landscape Design
Lester O’Driscoll
Luke Hamlin
Mathew Bell
Tree Care
Mick George Limited
P D Gale
Paul Langille
Pro-Plumb( Cambs.) Ltd
R F Allin
S Pell Builders Ltd
Saltream Ltd
Soil Property Testing Ltd
Sol Data Ltd
Trad Lead
Whitehouse Masonry Ltd

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One response to “The Story of Buckden’s Living Stones

  1. Pingback: Award-winning work! | St Mary's, Buckden: the A1 Church

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