Design Award 2019 - Winners

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Dr Jeremy Campbell is the director of the London Cat Clinic which was the winner of the Conversion Category as well as the overall winner of the Design Awards 2017. Here he is in conversation with the BVHA.

Practice Name: The London Cat Clinic 

 

Design Award for: Best Conversion and Overall Winner

 

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

A1. Our mission was to create a state-of-the-art single-species clinic in the heart of London. We were aiming for a light, airy and spacious feel, designed around the specific needs of cats and their carers. We wanted a calm environment where cats could immediately feel relaxed, without the distraction of barking dogs.

 

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

A2. i) Being a single-species practice was forefront in our design – everything was designed for the comfort of cats! We designed bespoke accommodations throughout the practice, exceeding ISFM Gold Standard in size and with tinted glass for felines who like their privacy, in carefully designed and separate areas such as the hospital, the day ward and the ICU. Our unique 'cat cubbies' were created in the walls of the consult rooms with steps leading up to them so our patients could find some privacy whilst they got used to their surroundings, allowing them to be calmer and less stressed when we examined them. We ensured there were no gaps or spaces in practice where cats could jump and hide whilst exploring their surroundings.

ii) Natural light and appropriate ventilation were also an important factor. We have all worked in dark, poorly lit, overheated/underheated practices and we were focused on that not being the case at The London Cat Clinic.  Letting natural light flood the practice from the front and back was crucial in creating the light, bright feel we wanted. All the consult rooms have an opaque wall which allows in natural light, making the mood warmer and less ‘sterile’.

iii) The flow of the practice was also a real focus for us. We wanted the clinical team and our clients to be able to move through the practice without bumping into each other. We wanted a clean, contemporary feel to create a different type of interaction based on openness and transparency. The rear of the practice is a large, open clinical area that allows us to work on multiple cases at the same time around the central workstation and have easy access to our sterile theatre, ultrasound and X-ray whilst keeping a close eye on our patients in the day-ward.

 

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

A3. A good architect is worth its weight in gold! We partnered with Jay Gort and Paul Wild from Gort Scott, who were fantastic at turning our vision and wish list into reality.

We also used a specialist Project Manager, Alex Darvill from ACD Projects, from those moments of tension between aesthetics and artistic vision and practicality and feasibility!

 

Q4. Why did you decide to undertake the project?

A4. Having spent time visiting feline-only practices in the US and seeing how much the cats, owners and the veterinary team benefited from a space devoted to these very particular souls combined with the increasing popularity of cats as companions (particularly in cities) it just made more and more sense that now was the time to build a large, high spec future-proofed clinic in central London.

 

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

A5. If you mean the original budget, the revised budget, the 'well-we-can't-stop-now' budget or the sleepless nights budget, then no. But we did keep within the 'well-here-we-are-and-it's amazing' budget.

In all seriousness we had the revised budget that was significantly more than we had originally thought (but reflected the cost of the build in the location and financial environment) that we stuck to (after some very intense value engineering!!)

 

Q6. With hindsight, what would you do differently?

A6. Understand much earlier than we did that Grand Designs Syndrome would affect us too, however much planning we did! Grand Designs syndrome is when you find yourself in exactly the same position as those poor people in the TV programme. You know the ones I am talking about – those who have conflict with their architect’s artistic visions, the planning office is a faceless nightmare, run-ins occur with the contractors and subcontractors who say one thing and do something else, the project doesn’t come close to finishing on time, and the finished product never comes in on budget. Even though we adamantly declared in front of the TV “that would never happen to me”. It does and it did!

 

Q7. How has this changed your business?

A7. The Award came at just the right time for us. Being designated as an ISFM Gold Standard Practice and then winning the Design Awards a few months later gave us a fabulous boost.

Winning the Best Conversion and Overall Winner helped put The London Cat Clinic on the map!

 

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

A8. I am so proud of winning this Award. Seeing the judges faces when they walked around the practice was magic – that’s how I felt (and feel) as well.

The fact they were so complimentary about the design, innovative addition and layout of our practice which then lead to the Award is a fabulous vindication of the emotional energy invested in building what is my dream practice.

 

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

A9. Aneurysm-inducing! The journey – from having an idea to actually opening a bricks and mortar practice – is not for the faint-hearted as you don't know what you don't know until your encounter it for the first time.

Probably the most stressful moment was when we lost our first property days before we were due to exchange – having spent a considerable sum of money on legal and architect fees and many months of time, we were gazumped a few days prior to exchange! 

that, every stage feels the most stressful at the time until you move until the next phase – finding a building, getting funding, getting planning permission, appointing partners and contractors, managing the project, unforeseen costs and delays all have to be navigated and survived before you even have a cat through the door!

 

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

A10. I think the design elements did. When I see what we have created, it is exactly what I envisaged and believe the cats are smiling back at us as they enjoy this award-winning design.

The biggest challenge was mobilising suppliers and the need for micro-management. Don’t assume external suppliers will talk to each other to coordinate their movements to allow the project to move forward smoothly – they don't!

Micro-manage, micro-manage, micro-manage!

 

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

A11. We also used a specialist Project Manager, Alex Darvill from ACD Projects. Alex’s no-nonsense approach was crucial to finding a balance between builders, architects and us. Professional tension is apparently a very good thing, which is good as we had it in spades.

 

Q12. Who were the main suppliers that you used?

A12. The fit out was managed by Bolt & Heeks and they appointed the sub-contractors

 

Q13. What features are particularly important to you?

A13. The openness and lack of clutter in the client areas, the cat cubbies, the flow of the clinical areas particularly the central prep areas when multiple vets are working and the ventilation and lighting.

 Specifically designed lighting and air conditioning solutions throughout the whole practice has a significant impact on morale, performance and my eyesight!

 

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

A14. We are delighted with the results! It is a great place to work, a great place to practice feline medicine and a great calm and contemporary place for cats, for their nine lives and counting.

When I saw the first cat make his way up into the cubbies and settle in I knew we had done our job.

 

Q15. Are your clients pleased with the results?

A15. We have had lots of fabulous reviews from happy clients and our numbers are growing every month. We are always having comments about how calm it is, how much space there is. We offer tours of the clinic, so clients can see where their loved friends will be spending time with us with is really well received.

 

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

A17. Go into it with your eyes wide open; there will be surprises on the way. Have a contingency and a contingency for the contingency as well as a great relationship with your bank or in-laws.

Make sure your design is future-proofed; this is not a project to be undertaken regularly.

Keep the faith that it will all be worth it in the end; it is!