Nestled in the heart of Delamere Forest in Cheshire is Delamere Forest Visitor Centre, which has been given a new lease of life, thanks to a multi-million pound refurb project delivered by Forestry England.
Delamere Forest Visitor Centre has been transformed into an arts and cultural space as part of a £9million project, the largest to have ever been commissioned by Forestry England.
Built by Willmott Dixon and B+K Structures, the single-storey visitor structure, which spans 1,000m2, features a combination of flexible educational and office spaces, as well as a large café area for users and other visitors.
Work on the site started in November 2019, with the structural timber frame completed in January 2020. The visitor centre was completed in September 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic. This was made possible by Willmott Dixon adapting to a series of stringent safety measures to enable its workers to continue to work safely on-site during the pandemic.
The visitor centre is an historically popular destination, even before the increase in people using outdoor leisure spaces, triggered by Covid-19. Pre-pandemic, more than 750,000 visitors a year went to the forest to enjoy the surroundings, listen to live music or take part in sports events.
As a result, visitor experience has been at the core of the redevelopment of the centre, which also features accessible toilets and adult changing facilities. In addition, a brand new bike centre has been installed, new access roads have been built and improved parking for up to 500 vehicles created.
While providing the best possible visitor experience has been at the heart of this project, so too has sustainability, which is clearly evident through all aspects of the building’s design.
Solar panels have been fitted to the roof of the visitor centre. Other energy-efficient design elements include a ground source heat pump and sustainable drainage system in the car park. This system is supported by the necessary infrastructure to enable rainwater to be harvested and reused.
Timber has been used throughout this entire project to bring Forestry England’s sustainable vision to life, and provides a key design feature both internally and externally.
The main structure of the visitor centre, which was designed by Civic Engineers in collaboration with hybrid structures specialist, B&K Structures, is constructed from cross laminated timber (CLT) panels and glulam beams. CLT roof panels are supported by engineered glulam timber downstand beams that span between the internal columns and the perimeter CLT walls.
In the café area, the space is opened up with long span trusses that reach between the perimeter walls and taper upwards to give a sense of height, while also allowing natural ventilation. In addition, the main structure and bolts are left fully exposed, clearly expressing the structural requirements.
Not only has the use of engineered glulam timber and CLT reduced the visitor centre’s carbon footprint, it enabled the main structure to be manufactured quickly and accurately off-site before being installed in January 2020.
Meanwhile, the main building and new and improved bike centre have been clad in the same UK-grown larch to create a finish that’s both eye-catching and sustainable.
Images: Design Group Chester and B+K Structures