In the fifth part of a series on the winners of this year’s CPRE Norfolk Awards, rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL reports on a commercial building project which is at ease with its countryside surroundings.

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While the preservation of nature and landscapes is a key conservation concern, it is only part of what keeps the countryside alive.

Because, for the rural economy to thrive, there is also a need to recognise the value of development, as long as it is in the right place and sympathetic to its surroundings.

And it was one such plan – to replace a derelict pig shed with a modern physiotherapy practice – which caught the eye of the judges in this year’s CPRE Norfolk Awards.

The Park Physiotherapy clinic was opened in February on the grounds of Leys Farm at Hockering, near Dereham.

The £200,000 project was the culmination of a 20-year dream to combine the business interests of farm owner Stephen Ashford and his wife, chartered physiotherapist Elizabeth Palmer.

Since 1998, Elizabeth had been running her company from premises four miles away at Weston Park Golf Club, near Lenwade.

A redundant and unsightly livestock building at Leys Farm presented an ideal opportunity for renovation and relocation.

But when the existing structure was found to be unsuitable for conversion, the couple opted to demolish it instead – opening the possibilities for an eco-conscious new building.

Construction began in May 2011 on an energy-efficient design with high levels of insulation and under-floor heating provided by a ground-source pump powered by electricity from photo-voltaic panels.

A ventilation system using heat-recovery was also employed, and external windows were either double or triple-glazed.

Aesthetically, materials were carefully chosen to match the character and colours of the adjacent old timber-framed brick barn.

Mr Ashford, whose family has been at the farm for 40 years, was the project manager.

“From a design point of view, the starting point was the old barn across the yard,” he said.

“We wanted to keep this building’s design sympathetic, and right from the start we wanted it to be a green building.

“But it also had to be a fairly modern building. I quite like modern architecture, juxtaposed with the old – I didn’t want to make it look old for the sake of it.

“We were really pleased with the award. As everyone does, you get very involved with the project as it is going on and when it is finished you like to think that you have done a good job, but it is quite pleasing to have that confirmed.

“Liz was paying rent to someone else, so it makes sense commercially for her to work here, but socially it has allowed us to become more involved in each other’s businesses.”

The new building, designed by architect Mike Reynolds from Aylsham-based firm Reynolds Jury, includes two treatment rooms and a gym.

Park Physiotherapy has 5,600 registered clients, employs five physiotherapists and two reception staff, and sees about 300 patients in an average month.

Company founder Elizabeth Palmer said: “Since we have started working here, the patients walk in and say: ‘Wow, you’ve done a really good job.’ But Stephen does not see too many of those people, so it is nice for him to get that recognition.

“It was put together with an eco-conscious mind-set. The idea originated 20 years ago, so it has always been a dream.

“The new building is just wonderful. It has made a huge difference to the practice to have that extra room for a gym. It is such a lovely working space and the staff love it. People love coming here because they see wildlife down the drive and we have got lots of parking. “It is a lovely environment to be in – it’s an environment that makes you feel better so, yes, there is a health benefit to it.

“The countryside is wonderful, but it shouldn’t be a chocolate box. There are lots of businesses around here, and it means there’s always something happening.”

In making their awards decision, the CPRE judges said: “These bespoke business premises are well-designed, in keeping with the Norfolk aesthetic and providing comfortable accommodation for the physiotherapy staff and users.

“It is an excellent example of how to successfully introduce commercial activity into a rural area.”

The CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Norfolk Awards Ceremony is at 7pm on November 21 at the Assembly House, in Norwich. Tickets to the event are free but need to be reserved. Contact Katy Jones on 01603 761660.

chris.hill@archant.co.uk

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