Blog: SECBE Awards 2022 finalist - City of London Freemen’s School

24 May 2022

Conservation & Regeneration

City of London Freemen’s School (submitted by Gilbert-Ash) 

Conservation & Regeneration Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2022 Finalist

The 168-year-old City of London Freemen's School is set in 57 acres of Ashtead Park in the heart of Surrey.

The masterplan scheme included the renovation works to the Grade II listed Main House (including an energy centre), and a number of new buildings including junior school, dining hall and assembly hall as well as landscaping and car park works.

The £15million project was completed on time and in budget despite pressures of an ongoing global pandemic and challenges around the price and supply of materials.

The newly refurbished building provides contemporary sixth form facilities to complement the heritage of the iconic building within a variety of spaces such as the Harkness Rooms, quiet study areas, a formal library and project rooms.

To add to the challenges for the Gilbert-Ash team, the works on this historic building took place within the live school campus.

One of the main challenges was to carefully unpick previous phases of sensitive adjustments to the building, while proposing internal interventions that would raise the standard of the school’s academic provisions. 

Due to the age and listed nature of the building and historic amendments, the City of London commissioned a range of surveys prior to work getting underway. This was a time-consuming process which took around 10 months to complete.

It was during these surveys and intrusive investigations that the true nature of the building began to reveal itself. The Gilbert-Ash team uncovered a number of hidden defects as well as dry and wet rot in some sections.

There were also issues with some of the original plaster in places. As it is such an old building the team had to test the original plaster for traces of horse hair as this could have caused issues with lead, asbestos and anthrax.

This was all very time-consuming but a very important part of the process as the survey helped Gilbert-Ash realise the extent of the repairs needed. It was then a case of working in collaboration with the City of London Corporation, the design team and client to methodically move through the repairs.

When something was unable to be repaired and restored the team took casts of it and had replicas created. They were able to remove some sections of plaster or cornicing in the ceilings and replace them.

The project now provides new sixth form facilities which allow teaching and learning to be practiced in flexible and inspiring environments, supporting academic excellence and pedagogic change.

In a letter to Gilbert-Ash, Freemen’s School Headmaster, Roland Martin said: “I have been fortunate to tour my Chairman of Governors and other Members around the completed project, as well as taking the Town Clerk around the building. The latter suggested that this was one of the finest restoration projects that he has seen. Having worked with Gilbert-Ash on two projects now, I could not speak more highly about the level of professionalism and care that has been taken on both, alongside very carefully managing the fit in with the rhythm of a very busy School.”


Key achievements:

  • After a painstaking and detailed series of surveys around 90% of the original building was able to be retained while the other 10% was re-created using artisan trades people to maintain the look of the original building.

  • Completing such an extensive restoration project within the grounds of a live school which is home to over 800 pupils and around 100 staff.

  • After the extensive refurbishments, the Gilbert-Ash team were able to identify the best possible locations to install the new M&E equipment in a manner which was sympathetic to the original lay-out of the building.


Client: City of London Freemen’s School

Project's Partner: Gilbert-Ash


Find out who wins at the Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2022 Ceremony on Thurs 30th June 2022.

>> Find out more about the other Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards finalists here



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