Part of the Solihull Community Housing portfolio, The Hermitage comprises of 10 one and two bed apartments and a number of large communal spaces. A detached red-brick building, built in 1863 by the Rev Charles Evans, a headmaster of King Edward School, Birmingham, The Hermitage has been a place of many things, for many people.
Following damage caused by a fire in 1905, The Hermitage was restored in 1915 and used by the Red Cross as a relief hospital for the wounded during WW1. Acquired by the Local Authority in 1920, the building became a children's home until the early 1970s, with one former resident commenting, "The Hermitage was a huge, rambling house, but I remember it being very happy..." Acquired by Solihull community Housing (SCH), and council run for around 35 years, work began in October 2012 on a £200k project to refurbish the property both internally and externally.
"The Hermitage isn't a listed building," says SCH project manager, Brian King, "...but it is important that we retain its character." Easier said than done when working within the limitation of a social housing budget, yet for The Hermitage to not only last another 150 years but for SCH to meet its objective of becoming long term maintenance free, changes needed to be made.
"A large percentage of the original exterior products are manufactured from timber, from the roofline to the windows. As a result of weathering and irregular maintenance, performance was suffering, with draughty windows and rotten fascia boards. We needed to decrease the long-term maintenance and repair costs of the building with materials that can stand up to our climate. Our budget is public-funded, and when you have that kind of responsibility you want to make sure that you make that money work hard for you."
Retaining the property's character was a key factor, especially for the residents. As amenity housing, The Hermitage provides unsupported housing for older people. "Keeping the residents happy has always been a crucial part of the success of this refurb," continues Brian. "Working with our contractors Berben Installations, we have held regular meetings with the residents to keep them informed; this has been the key to gaining and maintaining their support and patience during the works."
With sympathy and integrity high on the agenda for this renovation project, an eye for detail has been integral to its success. One example of this has been the replica roofline manufactured and created by fascia system specialist, Swish Building Products. Having tendered competitively for the supply of roofline and rainwater products, the Tamworth-based business also showed awareness and understanding of the building's character in its response.
"The Hermitage has particularly ornate fascia boards," said Brian. "We wanted to reproduce this, and emulate this feature but using maintenance-free materials. Swish Building Products is renowned for its expertise in low-maintenance products, and was able to come up with a solution that appeased any doubts or scepticism about using PVC-U on a historic building."
"Many people simply rule out PVC building products from day one, without considering that PVC is probably the most appropriate use of materials for this application given the exposed and inaccessible location of the fascia system." says Greg Wilde, marketing manager at Swish Building Products, "And when you see what's been done with the new fascias and bargeboards at the Hermitage it shows what can be achieved when a bit of imagination is used."
Wilde concludes: "The building envelope is a significant and on-going cost, added to which is the repeat cost of labour, scaffolding, and site management, all costs that can be avoided by specifying appropriate materials."
Following the original designs supplied by Solihull Community Housing, Swish Building Products created a prototype of the Gothic inspired bargeboards using a mixture of existing profiles, which dominates the vast gable ends of the building. Taking around six weeks to finalise, the prototype allowed the team to progress through the installation, once onsite, efficiently.
The fascias have been created using a standard product; "...but it is the innovative way in which we have built up these standard profiles that has allowed us to meet the brief both objectively and practically," said Dave Osborne, technical manager for Swish Building Products. "A standard-sized fascia barge board profile is a maximum of 405mm deep, for the Hermitage we had to create an overall depth of 650mm. Using two colours, black and white, we combined up to 10 boards to create one section of gable end; including Scotia Moulding, Gee Pee half width, Gee Pee flat board, foiled Dee Mould and Square Fascia."
Aerial photography of the site also revealed 'hidden' roofs that the team didn't know existed! For these and the other non-gable fascia, Swish Building Products supplied a 425mm profile.
Manufactured from 84% recycled material, and saving 70% of the CO2 that would be generated using 100% virgin material, rainwater products from the building product specialist were also specified. The additional roof spaces had to be taken into consideration when claculating the potential quantity of rainwater run-off - helping to determine the specification of guttering with a sufficient flow capacity and the system layout, including the number and position of outlets.
Swish Approved Commercial Contractor, and Birmingham-based renovation specialist, Berben Installations, was responsible for installing the roofline and rainwater products. Paul Tunley, managing director of Berben Installations commented: "Using Swish Building Products gave us flexibility. As we had the whole range at our disposal, as well as their expertise, we were able to complete the roofline without having to mix and match with competitor products or ranges. The team found the products very easy to work with and the design, created by Swish Building PRoducts, Brian King and myself, easy to follow. I think everyone involved in the project is pleased with the way the roofline has turned out."
Brian concluded: "We are incredibly fortunate to have a company such as Swish on our doorstep. To receive this type of dedication from a national business is second to none, but to be able to 'tick' our local supplier box is a big plus! As the project draws to a close we are on schedule and on target to meet our objectives. By using modern methods on a historic Solihull building we have been able to combine old and new seamlessly to provide a wonderful sheltered housing location that anyone would be delighted to call their home.