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A first in the UK for its innovative use of reconstituted slate in a modern interlocking roofing material, the BMI Redland Cambrian Slate combines great traditional looks with great durability and cost-effectiveness; and so provided an ideal solution for roofing Butterfly House, an important and sensitively-designed £4.8 million hospice in High Wycombe.

Butterfly House is the only palliative day hospice in South Buckinghamshire and the charity cares for up to 800 people a month there. Owned by the South Bucks Community Hospice charity, it is a centre of excellence for palliative care and the training of specialist personnel from around the world. The three-level 1400m2 building provides clinical services including lymphedema treatment, baths with hoists for patients with special mobility needs, counselling rooms and dedicated space for young patients.

“The roof looks fantastic and it’s cost-effective. The slate works well with the quality facing materials that we’ve used, it was quick to install on site – and it has all the appearance of natural slate,” says Amanda Walker, Director of DP Architects.

This, she explains, was crucial because the roof is one of the hospice’s most distinctive features and a key element of to giving it the feel of a home rather than an institution. “The main ethos for the hospice was to create a place and space in which visitors could feel relaxed and at ease, with recognisable materials at a domestic scale,” explains Amanda.

“The roof not only creates a domestic two-storey appearance, but it also provides accommodation within the roof space. Originally this was intended to enable the hospice to expand, however it’s now used for office and fund raising.”

With slopes on different levels and planes, rooflights and two large dormer windows, the roof brings character to the building, but it also posed a challenge: roofing a very large area within the budget of a charity. The material also needed to complement the 42 homes nearby, Amanda points out.

“Due to the expanse of roof, the high quality of the facing material and the surrounding area, we needed a very natural looking material that was of a very high quality, durable, and fitted in with the modest building budget,” she says. “We’d used Spanish slate on another development and, although it was slightly cheaper, it wouldn’t have been as good.”

BMI Redland Cambrian Slate is manufactured with a thin leading edge and surface patterning taken from impressions of real natural slates. Its interlocking design features a unique three-point fixing which is secure on even the most exposed sites. Proven on pitches as low as 15°, Cambrian Slate is suitable for a wide range of projects. Three colours are available: Heather, Langdale Green and Slate Grey – with Slate Grey also available in a pre-weathered finish.

At the time of its introduction, BMI Redland Cambrian Slate represented a pioneering approach to recycling and won the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement for its use of slate waste in the manufacture of an attractive, high quality, durable roofing material.

For contractor Russell Roofing, careful consideration and organisation helped overcome the challenges of safety and detailing; and special care was needed due to the steep pitch of the roof necessary accommodate the rooms within the roof. Planning, co-ordination and continuous liaison with the scaffolder was necessary to provide access for the various elevations and returns. As Terry Dent, Russell Roofing Contracts Manager, puts it: “To work safely, we had to take our time and make sure we got it right first time.”

When it came to delivering a hospice that avoided an institutional appearance and gave the feeling of home, it’s no wonder  DP Architects chose to use BMI Redland Cambrian Slate to create the  distinctive roof  - with its aesthetic appeal, cost-effectiveness over natural slate and the way it complemented the building’s quality façade.


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