Pool House Equine Clinic talks about their Win


Richard Stephenson is one of the directors of the Pool House Equine Clinic which was the winner of the New Build Category as well as the overall winner of the Design Awards 2019. Here he is in conversation with the BVHA.

Practice Name: Pool House Equine Clinic


Design Award for: Best New Build


Q1. What were you trying to achieve/what was your overall goal?

A1. Our practice mission is encapsulated in our motto,  ‘Putting your horse first’. The building is designed to create a facility that enables staff to deliver this statement, whilst affording an excellent working environment for our clinicians and support staff.


We urgently needed a bigger modern building, modern operating theatres, with good staff facilities and substantial accommodation for on site staff. We wanted a modern equine hospital so that we can deliver a first class referral service to our referring practices and of course a premier service to our own clients


Q2. What were the 3 most important factors included in your practice design?

A2. The building needed to be centred around the operating theatres, induction boxes and supporting rooms (i.e. around CLINICAL work) – all of these have different height requirements and needed to fit into an overall design. (2) we wanted an educational facility – lecture theatre and conference rooms so that we can provide quality CPD (3) A crucial factor was the need to keep running a busy equine clinic on site whilst we were building and not making any compromise on the finalised build. As we have a large site we had a number of options and gradually narrowed down the final location.


Q3. Did you use and architect? If not, why not?

A3. We designed the clinic ourselves using a computer programme ‘cad’ running the various drafts past key staff groups and getting their feedback. There were literally dozens of drafts. Once we settled on floor plans and room heights we got an architect Simon Ward to work with us and to draw up proper technical and structural plans. We worked very closely with the architect and the selected contractor (JJL) – as well as formal monthly project meetings we visited site at least one per day (sometimes many more times) to ensure everything was as we wanted. A few changes were made to room finishes but no substantial change in the floor plan was made after construction had started.


Q4. Why did you decide to undertake the project?

A4. We wanted to ensure the future of Pool House Equine Clinic for the next 25 years and to be able to meet the requirements of an increasingly well informed horse owning public


Q5. Did you keep within your budget? If not by what percent did you exceed your budget?

A5. Our budget for the build was £1.8 million we exceeded that by £100,000 (mainly due to an increased scope for extern works including larger areas of tarmac and resiting of the entrance gates.


Q6. With hindsight, what would you do differently?

A6. Very little – we feel the building works really well. We could and should have paid a little more attention to the positioning of the electrical sockets in some of the offices. Although we had carefully calculated the number of power points, data points etc in each room they were not invariably situation in the optimal locations within the rooms – this is very difficult to get right until you have actually worked in a room. We did put in floor boxes in the main offices and this worked really well.



Q7. How has this changed your business?

A7. We couldn’t have continued to work at our present level in the old buildings everything was at its limit and day to day work was becoming extremely stressful. Often the limited facilities were fully occupied and we had to work in stables or outside. The offices had been moved to porta cabins to try and create more space. It is hard to remember just how difficult things were now. It is a luxury to have things like a quiet room where one can speak to clients, not to have to compete with colleagues to get into the X ray room with your case, to be able to carry out major surgery without causing chaos to the rest of the practice. We now have a lovely waiting room with functional WiFi where clients can relax whilst their horses are treated. As we are in a rural location having good staff facilities has made a big difference – a health and fitness room is available for staff who live on site. 


Q8. What has winning the Design Award meant to you?

A8.We were delighted to win the award – we didn’t expect to as our building was designed for function NOT to show off. We are grateful to the judges for this generous award.


Q9. Was the project very stressful? What was the most stressful situation?

A9. The actual building process was not stressful – in fact we really enjoyed it. Compared to a day running an equine practice it was a walk in the park!!! In the early stages arranging the finance and providing all the necessary information and business plans was taxing – but we had great support from our bankers NatWest.


Q10. What parts of the project went as you expected and what parts did not?

A10. I have to say that the whole thing went as we expected if not better. We were hit by terrible cold weather that closed the site down for a few days and it did take 8 months rather than 6 to complete – however time was never our concern – getting the building right was our main interest.


Q11. Did you use a project manager, or did you manage the project yourself?

A11. We used Knight Web as an overall project management company. They were excellent particularly during the tender process. They visited site at least once a month and certified the work that had been done.


Q12. Who were the main suppliers that you used?

A12 JJL Design and Build ( main contractor), Derbyshire flooring, Quattro flooring (clinical areas), Eurolec (electrical contractor), Centuary – security systems.


Q13. What features are particularly important to you?

A13. The operating theatres, the clinical area


Q14. Are you and your staff pleased with the results?

A14. Absolutely


Q15. Are your clients pleased with the results?

A15. We have had 100% positive feedback from clients. We engaged client interest during the build with regular FACEBOOK reports and we did some guided tours during the build for some of our key opinion forming clients. The official opening by HRH The Prince of Wales attracted massive coverage in both local and national press.


Q16. What tips do you have for others contemplating a building /refurbishment project?


1. Visit other clinics and gather as much information as you can. Keep changing your design until you are happy with it. The dimensions of rooms, width of doorways, and work flow are all better assessed by seeing how they have worked out elsewhere. Avoid remaking mistakes that have already been made!

2. Specify everything you want prior to the tender phase, go through room by room detailing what is to be in it and then try to stick to your design. If there are variations make sure a price is agreed before any work is done. Last minute changes will be expensive and may have unforeseen consequences  – try to make sure that your ‘tender pack’ is the finished design. We used a ‘design and build’ contract which seemed to work well for us.

3. Visit the site EVERY day – it is astonishing what can be going wrong (rooms being built without doorways for example). No one knows your building better than you do!

4. Be flexible on issues that don’t really matter – a good relationship with your builder is essential.

5. Involve your staff in the design process and give clients regular updates via social media. Build some excitement around your project. This had tangible benefits for us including a client donating all the extra office furniture needed for the new building – which represented a considerable saving.

6. Consider employing an extra veterinary surgeon during the build to allow the partners / directors some spare time so that they can be actively engaged in the design and build process. We employed an experienced former assistant for the 8 months whilst the project was going through its most critical phases. This proved an invaluable help in relieving some of the inevitable management pressure.

7. We used a management firm ‘Knight Webb’ to review the tenders, and quality control the build. As an independent third party their advice was vital so it was money well spent.

8. Be realistic regarding time frame. For most this is a once in a lifetime project and a couple of extra months before completion is much better than rushing the builder to complete on schedule so as to avoid penalty clauses. Be flexible with this - within reason!

9. Always ask – do you really need that corridor?

10. I repeat VISIT SITE EVERY DAY!!!!!!!