Benenden Hospital in Cranbrook, Kent, is a flagship independent hospital that provides healthcare to thousands of people each year. But after more than a century it required new and updated facilities to meet society’s changing healthcare needs.
It was opened in 1907 by the National Association for the Establishment and Maintenance of Sanatoria to treat postal workers suffering from tuberculosis. The association was a consortium founded by trade unions and friendly societies and Benenden Healthcare Society (formerly the Post Office and Civil Service Sanatoria) became a member. In 1951 it took over the sanatorium after the association disbanded.
With cases of TB declining, Benenden Healthcare Society expanded treatment to include chest complaints and cancer, and shortly afterwards an operating theatre, surgical wards and an x-ray department were introduced.
Today, Benenden Healthcare Society is known as Benenden and Benenden Hospital is a subsidiary – an independent hospital with charitable status which continues the principle of providing first-class treatment for a wide range of specialities.
Although Benenden members are the main users of the hospital, those who wish to fund their own treatment (directly or through insurance) as well NHS patients through the NHS e-referral service, are also welcomed.
The £54 million flagship redevelopment in two phases was designed by architects CA Vaughan Blundell to future-proof the healthcare facility for decades, with a priority being to bring together all the clinical services within one building and to address identified shortcomings such as privacy and dignity. As an example all in-patients are now treated in single en-suite bedrooms.
The first phase, which started in May 2013, comprised the new wards, three new state-of-the-art operating theatres and an ambulatory care unit. During this phase a new energy centre housing all the plant and equipment that supports the hospital was constructed.
Phase 2, which opened in October 2017, comprised a new double-height main entrance with a high-performance translucent roofed atrium incorporating a large relaxing waiting area and restaurant, new ophthalmic suite, new outpatient department, expanded physiotherapy area, new diagnostic imaging facilities, new pharmacy, and car parks.
O’Keefe was required by main contractor Willmott Dixon to provide earthworks, sub-structures, drainage and external works. All this on a live hospital site, next to a listed building, on a sloping site, and in a location surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
At the project launch, Kent divisional director Derek Gilburt was left in no doubt what was expected of O’Keefe in instructions from Willmott Dixon managing director Roger Forsdyke: “Derek, this is a sensitive site. I don’t want our construction site to look like a construction site.”
While O’Keefe’s Kent division has worked on live hospital sites and listed buildings and in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty before, it had never met all three challenges in one project.
The earthworks and sub-structure elements comprised the bulk excavation and construction of semi-basement extensions to the existing ward building and new extension wings at opposite ends of the site. The existing building required remodelling within its façade, involving the removal of floors. All spoil was deposited in an adjacent field for re-use as landscaping.
Drainage works included the creation of a large on-site open attenuation pond located in the picturesque valley in the hospital grounds. This in itself was no ordinary bulk dig and had to be completed sympathetic to the AONB setting. Extensive external works comprised the excavation and installation of substrate and kerbs and edging for new car parks, access and fire roads, and pedestrian routes.
Managing the demands for constant access and egress for patients, visitors and staff was challenging. Clear signage, good communication and continually updated traffic and pedestrian management plans kept staff and patients safe at all stages of construction.
In a clinical environment, dust, noise and vibration suppression were critical in allowing the hospital to function with no interruption. Simple measures including speed restrictions helped to keep dust under control. Through careful planning and the use of alternative working methods O’Keefe executed difficult elements of work with virtually no disruption to the hospital facility.
Work in the areas adjacent to the listed building required a careful choice of plant and planning to get materials to site and waste out of the buildings.
Due to the impact of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, storage of materials and fuel was a key consideration. Spill containment was extended beyond the normal drip trays to the use of bespoke plant ‘nappies’ underneath the excavators.
Derek Gilburt said: “Benenden Hospital was unusual in presenting so many challenges on a single project.”
Willmott Dixon operations manager Chris Yates said: “Willmott Dixon prides itself on its values which among other things incorporate our attitude towards acting with integrity and working to the highest possible quality and safety standards. The team at O’Keefe has always demonstrated these values.
“It is a testament to a company and a person that they do not act any differently regardless of the pressure of a situation or project and I can say with confidence that this is what you get from O’Keefe and their people. Regardless of the pressure or complexity of the situation the service remains the same.”
On winning the contract, John Waterman, managing director for Willmott Dixon in the Southern Homes Counties, said the company was particularly delighted to have secured it as [like O’Keefe] it had a strong local presence in Kent.Download this case study