SSQ Del Carmen® Blue-black roofing slate

Essex Wildlife Trust’s Chafford Gorges Nature Park is an island of tranquillity in an ocean of urban development: 200 acres of carefully managed nature park surrounded by 6,500 new houses next to Essex’s Lakeside shopping centre. Designed by Laurie Wood Architects, the park’s new visitor centre perches on the edge of Warren Gorge, its curved design helping to shield the houses from its visitors’ gaze, focussing their attention into the gorge and its wildlife.

“The visitor centre reflects our ideals as an architectural practice – innovative designs combining quality with energy efficiency and a respect for the environment.” said Laurie Wood, “The centre provides visitor and operational facilities wrapped in an environmentally-friendly design that’s both in harmony with its purpose and sympathetic to its location.”

The design of the roof is dictated by the design of the building: the front and rear elevations follow parallel curves that result in a single-pitch roof with an eaves length of 21m rising at a gentle 25° slope to a 29m long ridge. The design philosophy meant the choice of roofing material was relatively straightforward – good quality natural roofing slate has a long life expectancy; low environmental impact; low levels of embodied energy and carbon and can be recycled or reused. SSQ’s Del Carmen® Blue-black roofing slate was specified and the West London-based company asked to provide onsite advice.

“We knew this was going to be a challenge,” admits Tony Arnill from Clacton-based Arnold Roofing, ”but it was one we were looking forward to! Alain Richard, SSQ’s technical director, visited the site and helped us set out – having ‘pinged’ chalk-lines down the 9m slope, almost every one of more than 7,000 slates had to be individually cut so that the 116 slates in each course gradually increased in width from 180mm at the eaves to 250mm at the ridge. The combination of a shallow slope, narrow slates and lots of cutting meant hooks were the only way to fix the slates and Alain was a great champion of that! Despite our initial trepidation, everything went incredibly smoothly and we’re very proud of the job – it’s a shame most visitors don’t give it a second glance!”

As Steve Beary, director of Essex Wildlife Trust’s sales operation concludes, “The centre acts as a focal point within the park, enhancing people’s enjoyment of wildlife and brings benefits both individually and to the local community. To that end, its design plays a key role in realising ‘biophilia’, the instinctive bond that people have with nature.”

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