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Building The Barnum

Walker Sime, The Barnum

Nottingham’s Barnum development is a bold, striking addition to the city’s landscape, but bringing it to fruition presented a range of architectural and logistical challenges. Walker Sime’s Andrew McNaghten explains how we overcame them.

The Barnum, a modern, stylish collection of 348 studios and apartments close to Nottingham railway station, wasn’t originally intended as living space at all. Initially earmarked as a potential new site for the local tax office, its revised role as a residential space has given it the design freedom to become one of the area’s feature buildings, and a space its creators can look on with pride. 

Brought to Walker Sime by developer Blocwork, the complex is now operated by residential property specialist Grainger. Walker Sime shepherded the project to completion, initially as project manager (PM) and quantity surveyor (QS).

“Our involvement stretches back around five years,” explains Andrew McNaghten, Director of Project Management. “Our PM role then was around preparing documents for planning submissions, getting surveys done, and leading the team. 

“From a QS point of view, it was about cost planning, and adapting designs to keep the project viable. Once planning permission is granted the project is pretty much locked, so this was a crucial part of the process. Once permission was granted, we tendered for a building contractor and, when construction began in January 2021, our role switched to employer’s agent and we administered the ongoing project and led it to completion.”

Railway complexities

Developing next to a railway station always presents challenges. The Barnum was no different. “You can’t go obstructing railway lines to complete your build and you can’t ask rail companies to stop the trains for an hour so you can complete your demolition work, so that makes things tricky,” explains Andrew. “We needed to move a substation and there was a ramp through the middle of the site which people had used to access the station so that had to be relocated.”

The location of the station also affected architectural choices for the project. “We needed to be mindful of glare, so that when trains pull into the station, drivers aren’t affected by reflections from the development.”

Most unusual of all was a memorial garden which required respectful relocation. “We sought permissions from those who’d had their loved ones’ ashes scattered there. That alone took months, but it was important that we gained consent from everyone affected by the move.” 

The Barnum view
The view from The Barnum

Bringing The Barnum to life

Now making a distinctive impact on the Nottingham landscape, The Barnum’s architectural features also presented challenges.

“Each of the wings have curved walls, completed in red brickwork to ensure the building is sympathetic to the area,” explains Andrew. “From above it creates almost a cursive ‘E’. We’re told the residents love those apartments and it certainly looks striking as you drive past the building, but it took a lot of effort on the part of the design team to make it happen. The same is true for the feature canopy terraces.

“All of that needed delivering to an extremely tight budget. And everything up to the tendering stage happened during COVID, so that added to the complexity.”

Made in the East Midlands

“One of the requirements of most (if not all) of the projects we undertake is adding social value, and it’s an area where we always aim to over-deliver,” says Andrew. “At The Barnum, we used local contractors drawn from a 30-mile radius of the city. Every subcontractor was required to bring apprentices onboard. We involved people who had been previously incarcerated, helping to reintegrate them into the workforce and build their skills. 

“As part of our commitment to educational outreach we also gave local children opportunities to visit the site.”

A positive legacy

The Barnum was completed in October 2023, and it’s a project Andrew can look back on with real satisfaction.

“Every build is a challenge — complexity goes with the territory. That’s always something I enjoy, but when the finished product looks as good as The Barnum, you get a real buzz from it. 

“A lot of hard work from a lot of people goes into a project like this. It was an enormous team effort, and the end result is a place that around 600 people will call home, a place that really makes its mark on the local community.

“It’s a positive legacy for Nottingham, and it’s a positive legacy for us as developers, PMs and QSs. If I’m passing with my kids, there’s a real source of pride in saying to them ‘I was part of that’. And in 20 years, I’ll still feel that. I think that’s why we all do what we do really — to make an impact on places that matter to you.”

Walker Sime east of the Pennines

Barnum is just one of Walker Sime’s projects east of the Pennines, as Andrew explains: “Woodhouse Link in Sheffield. Youth centres in Barnsley, Huddersfield and Batley. We’re looking at a major refurbishment of a listed office building in the centre of Leeds. Across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the Midlands, we’ve got a wide range of projects at various stages of planning or delivery, which we’re steering from our Leeds office.”

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