Oddfellows | Commercial to Residential Conversion
Oddfellows Hall is a late Victorian brick built single-storey commercial to residential conversion building in the middle of the historic market town of Buckingham. Purpose built by the Oddfellows Society in 1891 as a meeting hall, the building had slowly fallen into disuse as the Society’s needs changed over the years, finally becoming entirely redundant in 2017 when a lease to the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to an end.
On this project we were fortunate to work not only with the original owners the Oddfellows Society but also the subsequent buyer. Lustrum acquired the Hall following an extensive marketing campaign, and was the only bidder willing to take on the commercial risk involved in re-purposing the D1 building. Lustrum came to us with an initial brief of converting the property into one individual dwelling, we advised that this wasn’t the best use of space as a garden wasn’t feasible, there was no parking on site and it was too big of a property to only become one dwelling.
Therefore, after sharing a previous positive pre-application submission with Lustrum and spending the time to discuss the brief and utilise the space available, bearing the locality to the University of Buckingham in mind, Scroxton & Partners suggested a small halls of residence instead. These would be apartments aimed mostly at student and shared living.
Working closely with the client, and with the assistance of pre-app advice from the local planning authority we developed a tailored scheme to effectively convert the redundant space into a Hall of Residence with purpose-built self-contained apartments, aimed primarily at the burgeoning student space in the town associated with the nearby University of Buckingham Campus, with lecture halls, a stone’s throw away.
As an un-listed building, Oddfellows struggled with an overlooking garden and narrowing to the front and rear of the building, meaning light access to the property was very limited. Therefore, one of the main goals with the main conversion, for Oddfellows was to give more light to the property giving it a brighter feel and opening up the building.
The Brief | Commercial to Residential Conversion
Initially a feasibility study was prepared, which achieved 12 small students rooms in line with local comparables. Following this, pre-application advice was sought from the local authority and received a positive response.
At this stage the owners decided to market the property with their existing agent Hadland Chartered Surveyors, (https://www.hadlands.co.uk) and offers were received. As with many unusual sites, the site fell foul of indecisive buyers, but through great perseverance of the owners and agent and an entrepreneurial mindset from the buyer, the sale proceeded.
The new owner was delighted with the scheme but felt however that reducing the scheme to eight, larger, two-person units with the light available would provide more window space per unit, and so eight duplexes with ensuites and kitchen/living space was submitted for planning.
To align with the heritage statement of the building, timber windows and mailboxes were used along with CCTV and obscured windows to heighten the security of the property. Neighbours were slightly concerned about privacy that Oddfellows would take away, so we ensured that overlooking wasn’t an issue for surrounding properties.
The Physical site constraints include the hall sitting almost entirely within its own footprint. External space is limited to a small courtyard and there is no on-site provision for suitable amenity space. There is zero car parking and one single exit to the public highway. There is no rear garden space and a principal watercourse (R. Ouse) within 20 metres, regularly liable to pluvial flooding, with very close proximity (less than 2 meters) to neighbouring residential properties.
Our Design | Commercial to Residential Conversion
Planning constraints consist of the heritage, being locally listed as a non-designated heritage asset and surrounded by other grade II listed buildings in close proximity to the grade II* church, in a conservation area. The community engagement is also well-connected to local opposition from near neighbours, along with being supported by the Town Council who voted unanimously against the proposal.
Within the local plans, protection of nearby residents amenity from overlooking is protected, whilst the need for natural light, privacy and ventilation for the proposed occupants is also required. A small portion of the building technically lies within flood zone 2, which essentially stops the use of the lower ground floor/ basement as residential habitable space. Most dwellings require the need for parking, however as the scheme was designed for students, who do not generally have cars, which they would need as they walk to lectures, the scheme was designed in line with zero-car schemes recently consented in other University towns,
The design challenges cover; layout, light, privacy, outlook, amenity space, flood risk and heritage. The layout is to configure the internal space into sufficient number of units to ensure the financial viability of the development, whilst not over-intensifying the number of units and falling below minimum spacing standards for habitable rooms.
Light is used to maximise internal light to provide good quality internal study space and exceed standards for habitable rooms. Privacy vs. overlooking is to balance the need for quality of light ingress and outlook for inhabitants, against the demand from neighbouring properties not to have their own amenity space adversely impacted to an unacceptable degree. The flood risk is to design all habitable residential space to be self-contained and resilient to 1/1000 year flood risk level.
The team re-designed the initial layout of 13 units down to 9, concisely addressing the planning objections of over-intensification of the scheme thrown up by the pre-app. In conjunction with the Client, the layout was re-configured to provide 8 no larger duplexes over the original design of 2 distinct floors with self-contained units, 6 per floor, plus the retention of a 9th apartment at the front of the building.
The re-configured layout allowed for an increase in unit size per apartment, and introduced a neat diurnal/ nocturnal split – living/ study space on the ground floor: bathroom/ bedroom space on the first floor, accessed via an internal staircase.
Light on the ground floor rooms was provided by the large original windows, giving a high volume of fresh air, ventilation and natural light, which satisfied planning demands for the critically important study/ work areas.
Light and ventilation in the upstairs rooms on the first floor was provided for by the insertion of conservation rooflights, one per room. The rooflights matched those on adjoining properties, did not adversely affect the setting of the neighbouring Grade II listed buildings, nor Grade II* Church, and crucially, were positioned high in the roofline to negate any issue of overlooking neighbouring gardens or habitable rooms.
All the windows to be replaced on the sensitive ground floor were designed with semi-opaque glass, Level 3 on the Pilkington Scale, to 1.7m above floor height. Simple, effective low cost/low-tech idea which provided a definitive solution to opposition from neighbours objecting to windows looking directly into their habitable rooms. Allows the inhabitants to maintain good quality of light, whilst shielding both them and the neighbours from intrusive views into each other’s habitable space.
The original owners were happy to sell and achieve a viable amount and were now able to pursue their own plans. With Permission granted for the nine flats, greatly improving the value of this quirky local building and providing for the opportunity for it to be back into use, the new owner, Lustrum, considered how best to carry out the development.
The Outcome | Commercial to Residential Conversion
Lustrum was knocked off course, temporarily, as his own investors whose businesses were adversely affected by COVID lockdown, sought to release their funding as quickly as possible. Being creative in his approach, he spoke with an auctioneer, Strettons, and listed the commercial to residential conversion for sale.
With the demand for viable developments for commercial to residential conversions in such an established area as Buckingham in hot demand, the property sold to a local student accommodation specialist within 60 days.
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