An education in masterplanning

Claire Wakelin | 15 Nov 2016 | Comments

Imagine you’re starting a college campus from scratch. You have a constrained site, a limited budget, multiple stakeholders – all with different needs – and a hard deadline to meet. How do you take all of this and create a masterplan that is deliverable but doesn’t lose the college’s vision along the way?

Richmond Education and Enterprise Campus (REEC) is a great example of this. It looks to create a new, innovative education, skills and enterprise centre in the heart of Twickenham. The ambitious campus will bring together Richmond upon Thames College, Haymarket Publishing Ltd. and a new 11-16, five form entry secondary school and special educational needs (SEN) facility. All of these will be located on a site half the size of the College’s current site, as they look to consolidate their estate and sell off land for residential developments that will help fund their new campus.

It was key to our masterplan to maximise the land value for the College. We also needed to deliver the College’s aspiration of a shared commitment to quality, innovation and enterprise, while providing high quality teaching and learning together with a commercial and business portfolio and a new community offer. All of this within a very constrained site that would provide best value and returns for the College. So how did we get there?

To design a masterplan that’s fit for purpose you need to have a clear understanding of different stakeholders’ aspirations and concerns. For the REEC, we led engagement sessions with development partners, planning officers and local community groups to not only get a deeper understanding of what they needed, but to build up trust. The Local Community Forum, which enabled interested parties to be updated on progress and provide feedback, was critical in quickly gaining support and achieving positive planning outcomes without delaying the development programme.

Once we knew exactly what our stakeholders were looking to achieve we were able to create a masterplan that balanced all of their requirements. For example, to create the increased visibility that the College wanted, we changed the location and increased the height of the college building, maximising frontage and creating an iconic entrance to the site. We also suggested ideas for space sharing, and reached agreement on necessary area reductions without compromising any one stakeholder’s needs.

The masterplan was an opportunity for the College to transform the learning experience for its students. We created space for social learning, vital to the success of an educational facility and often not provided for in traditional designs. We also ensured the college catered for a broad range of capabilities. We designed an inclusive environment with a series of open learning zones with resource areas on top of the ‘black box’ spaces – maximising the deep plan building footprint. We also ensured the Supported Learning department was located at the heart of the new building, fully accessible to all whilst carefully providing separation of sensitive spaces.

The masterplan also promotes incubation, sharing and exploration – better equipping students with skills and workplace confidence. To achieve this we brought together the College’s ‘core academies’, such as business, creative and lifestyle, into a single building. We also improved collaboration and space utilisation, allowing for natural progressions through education from age 11 to 16. The secondary school on the REEC is not a separate entity, it is a feeder for the College that has the added benefit of allowing its students access to the specialist College facilities typically outside their reach.

Crucially, whilst all of this transformation is taking place the College needs to keep providing a quality learning environment for its students; it can’t simply pack up and move while construction takes place. Our masterplan looked to minimise disruptions, carefully phasing the works so that the College could always maintain the right level of provision.

Ultimately the REEC masterplan will see the College form the central element of a new Enterprise and Education Campus. To make this happen we needed extensive communication with external stakeholders, a detailed consultation and engagement plan, full buy-in, and above all – a great masterplan. Together, this led to successful planning approval earlier this year, and hopefully, the REEC will be able to teach us all a lesson in how successful masterplans can be delivered.