Heritage refurbishment case study: Lawes Agricultural Trust

Refurbishing flagship heritage building at an internationally important science park

Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT) aids the advancement of agricultural science by supporting Rothamsted Research and RoCRE (Rothamsted Centre for Research & Enterprise), including managing and maintaining its land and buildings in Harpenden.

Customer benefits at a glance

  • Solutions based on experience of working on heritage buildings
  • Competitively priced
  • Strong track record in refurbishing and repurposing heritage properties
  • Genuine skills and first-hand expertise, which was evident to trustees who had other heritage and development interests and experience
  • Facilitated H&S compliant site tours for prospective tenants  prior to project completion to help client secure a new tenant
  • Strong work ethic and a friendly working culture
  • On-site staff are genuinely interested in historic buildings


The challenge

After many decades of housing Rothamsted’s research facilities and then a long-term tenant, Rivers Lodge,LAT’s most prominent heritage building, had become tired and worn towards the end of its tenancy lease.

With its position in front of a globally important research site overlooking Rothamsted Common, Rivers Lodge was in a prime position to attract another prestigious occupier. However, this Grade 2 listed building’s interior needed to be modernised to suit twenty-first-century business practices.

The original building was built in the early 1700s, and extended in the 1800s and again in the early 1900s.

The heating – including cast-iron radiators – had been patched up over the years, but caused serious issues towards the end of the last lease. It was no longer fit for purpose, but was still considered a historic feature by the heritage authorities.

Although Rivers Lodge’s electrics were legally satisfactory, they had evolved over decades, just like the IT and communications hardware. Wires had been added but not removed when redundant, so they’d accumulated and become unsightly.

When River Lodge’s tenant moved elsewhere within the science park, Stephen James, CEO of the Lawes Agricultural Trust, took the opportunity to refurbish the building so that it would suit the needs of the type of innovative company that might move to such a location.

The solution
Bidwells have a long and positive track record of working with Lawes Agricultural Trust, a strong reputation for working with heritage buildings, and good local representation.

“Bidwells helped us to forecast the future of the building and spec refurbishment accordingly. The output would have to appeal to modern business tenants and the heritage authorities.

 “None of us wanted to lose its beautiful period characteristics: however, we had to make the building workable. For example, the cast-iron radiators were deemed to be part of the building’s story, so we had to find a modern alternative that pleased everyone,” explained Stephen.


Plans were agreed and put out to tender. Following Bidwells recommendations, Stephen awarded the project to Wilford & Dean, part of Newport Pagnell Construction. Stephen explained why: “Wilford & Dean have a huge amount of experience in maintaining and altering heritage buildings. We were impressed – they understood what we wanted to achieve and shared our views. They’d clearly delivered a whole range of similar projects which have been sympathetic to the properties and their history, while giving them a modern use.

 “They were competitively priced. Projects of this size need committee approval, and our trustees have plenty of first-hand experience in development and heritage site projects – they agreed that Wilford & Dean were our best option.”

The results
Wilford & Dean kept Bidwells and Stephen informed about progress, and always welcomed visits. With refurbishments of this kind, there can be surprises when you start lifting floors and replacing panels.

“Wilford & Dean’s know-how in this area was telling. They weren’t fazed by unexpected discoveries, and swiftly came up with solutions, alongside Bidwells, that were obviously born from experience,” commented Stephen.

The surprises included a problem that resulted in roofing repairs, which required further consultation with the heritage authorities.  Although  it was beyond the original spec, Stephen and Bidwells agreed that it was well worth doing before the new tenants moved in.

“Everything stayed on track and was delivered within a sensible timescale. We couldn’t have expected more. They also showed prospective tenants around before the work was complete. This was really helpful because they turned out to be our next occupants, and this meant that I could get the tenancy moving before the building was returned to us.

 “I’d be happy to recommend Wilford & Dean and Bidwells. The site foreman was genuinely interested in the building and its history. He built good relationships with those in the vicinity and his team followed suit. They have a strong work ethic and a friendly working culture,” concluded Stephen.