Royal Liberty School
Refurbishment and extension of historic Royal Liberty School in Romford
The Royal Liberty School is unique in its incredibly rich history and physical heritage, with the project undertaken requiring the simultaneous preservation of this history for future generations and the provision of new, fit-for-purpose facilities. Essential to the successful rejuvenation and development of the institution is the integration of new buildings and the modification of satellite structures, taking into consideration the existing buildings, their styles and the customer’s expectations.
The £20 million project, secured through the Southern Construction Framework, saw Willmott Dixon return to Romford following the successful completion of the town’s Sapphire Ice Rink & Swimming Pool. It saw the detailed refurbishment of a Grade II* listed building, the demolition of three buildings, the construction of new facilities and site-wide service upgrades, including power, water and gas. To minimise disruption to the students’ studies and enable the school to continue operating throughout the works, we erected a temporary four-storey teaching block, consisting of 86 prefabricated modules.
The Royal Liberty School in Romford, Essex, counts among its buildings Hare Hall, the listed building requiring intricate refurbishment. A Palladian Georgian Manor built in 1769 for cork and stone merchant John Wallinger, during World War I, it was requisitioned and used for training soldiers, most notably among whom were wartime poet Wilfred Owen and the Artists Rifles. The school, extended after the Great War in 1921, would go on to be the first school in Europe to have a computer in a classroom.
Work began in July 2019 and was completed by the end of 2021, coinciding with the 100-year anniversary of the school’s opening. Due to the school being a Grade II* listed building and protected by Historic England, a focused, detail-oriented approach was required due to the associated complexities. The works were carried out via the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP 2), and it is one of the first projects to use this vehicle to refurbish a listed building.
A new standalone sports hall, two storeys high, provides a multi-purpose space for students to enjoy physical education, while a new food technology room and expanded canteen enables the school to deliver an enhanced student experience. Upgrades and modifications were also made to various rooms and corridors throughout the existing structures to ensure long-term viability and the preservation of the historic feel of the school.
Of great importance throughout the project was the close collaboration of Willmott Dixon and our partners: Vincent & Gorbing, the architects for the project; Alan Baxter Associates, the civil and structural engineers; RPA, the selected MEP consultants; and Aracadis, the project management and cost team for our customer.
Now completed, the school’s expansion and refurbished facilities will see capacity increase by 150 pupils and ensure the long-term future of this unique site.
The project manager Mark Turner won a silver at the Construction Manager awards. Here is what the judges said:
As always with listed-building refurbishments, there were plenty of unwelcome surprises here. Thanks to Mark Turner’s calm, open and honest leadership, the client always knew what was going on, and that Mark had the best possible options for remedying the situation.
Early on, he found that the lime plaster walls of the main hall – originally an 18th-century country house – and the 1920s-built classroom wings were in poorer condition than feared. Rather than simply redecorate regardless, as contracted, he alerted the client, and took on a much bigger repair programme.
Even more serious was the discovery that the slate roofs of the classroom wings were in far worse condition than expected. The nails holding the gutter and fascias in place were extensively rusted, leaving slates liable to fall. Repair and replacement followed.
Since he’d encountered significant rot in the timber trusses of the slate roofs, Mark advised also opening up the flat lead-covered roof over the main hall’s feature staircase. He got the go-ahead, and found that the timbers supporting a large rooflight had deteriorated badly, also threatening the historic mouldings inside it.
This kind of news can poison a client relationship. But because he’d established a relationship of trust, Mark gained full acceptance for his proposals and the outcome: the replacement of the timbers and the manufacture and installation of identical mouldings from formers taken before their removal.
- Construction of new sports hall
- Temporary teaching facilities created to minimise disruption
- Preservation of historic features for future generations
Willmott Dixon House, 80 Wilbury Way, Hitchin, Herts
Tel: 01462 442200
Fax: 01462 442204