In the beginning
Graham Carruthers and Jeremy Pilling first worked together in the mid 1980’s as newly qualified Architects at JT Design Build, based above the Arnolfini on Bristol harbourside. In 1986, encouraged by the experience gained in this multi-disciplinary environment, Graham decided to set up as a sole practitioner working from his newly built home in Limpley Stoke near Bath.
In the Spring of 1987 Graham invited Jeremy to join him in partnership, launching as Graham Carruthers Partnership in the September. We set up business in a double bedroom (with en-suite print room) with the fabulously entertaining Sharon Rogers as our secretary to keep us well and truly off the straight and narrow.
We soon became established, picking up Country Club Hotel work at St Pierre and Redwood Lodge as well as the construction phase of the new David Lloyd Leisure Club at Long Ashton and a new school at Bradley Stoke. Graham’s medical connections brought surgery work at Lisson Grove and Begbrook in Plymouth, and Wick near Bristol.
Our growing family
Encouraged by the flurry of activity, we acquired offices above Bath Registry on Charlotte Street. In 1988, we were commissioned to design ten flats for a local developer in Keynsham, built by Midas Construction making one of their first forays into Bristol. We also struck up a fruitful relationship with Steve Taylor, another ex JT employee, carrying out several design build commissions including a thirty bed nursing home at Begbrook Park in Bristol. By 1989 we had a small cohort of staff including Rob Davis and Martin Spear from JT, with Jane Pinches as office manager.
Leaner times came in 1990, but winning a design competition for a new Waste Water Treatment Building at Ashford near Bridgwater for Wessex Water was a fantastic boost. The project, designed by Tony Aldrich, became the practice’s first signature building and still looks great today. Further treatment works followed at Durleigh, also near Bridgwater, Filwood near Taunton and smaller treatment works at Swanage, Minehead and Porlock.
1994 brought incorporation and Rob Davis joined the board. Our previous sport and leisure experience led us to a major refurbishment at St Pierre for Whitbread, at Bath Leisure Centre for Aquaterra, and the construction of new sports facilities for Writhlington School near Radstock. We were also invited to upgrade the clubhouse and build a new shop at Henbury Golf Club. Martin Spear and Jon Briscoe were instrumental in these commissions.
The practice was invited to put forward proposals to convert farm buildings adjacent to The Leadership Trust Management Training Centre near Ross on Wye into residential and teaching accommodation. This was the first time we really attempted to satisfy an overtly sustainable agenda. This approach was due to underpin a whole range of projects in future years and eventually lead to the launch of gcp Consulting in 2006, initially to carry out Eco-Home assessments which matured into the Code for Sustainable Homes, but which now advises on a wide range of sustainable design and energy reduction initiatives.
In 1997, the practice embarked on a range of retail garage fitouts to separate VW and Audi dealerships, a framework that took us to some far-flung corners of the UK such as Cumbria and Arran. Bideem Construction run by Mike Thyer and Steve Pole became clients in the late 90’s with a large new build industrial project at Portbury for Hampton Printing and three office blocks at Abbeywood in North West Bristol. Mike and Steve are still active clients today, operating as Perspective Developments. One of our most significant breakthroughs was the emergence of Bristol Water as an end client. Woodford Lodge, a replacement fishing lodge on Chew Valley Lake, started a relationship which remains strong to this day.
Graham Carruthers left the company in 1996 to become Chief Executive of a Christian Charity running activity holidays for children from under-privileged backgrounds. In 1997, Jonathan Platt and Colin Powell joined Jeremy to become equity directors on the board of gcp.
Also in 1997, gcp was commissioned by Bristol City Council to undertake an exercise into the provision of new sports facilities in the inner-city St. Paul’s area. This was the first of many consultation-led projects leading to lottery applications run by Jonathan Platt. It culminated in the design and delivery of the Civic Trust Award winning St Paul’s Community Sports Centre, designed by architect Martin Clarke and completed by Leadbitter Construction to much appreciation by the City Council in 2000.
The company moved out of Bath in 1998, converting The Cottage in Stockwood Vale into suitable premises to accommodate ten staff, and the practice embarked on a period of steady growth until the financial meltdown in 2008. Yearly turnover topped £1m for the first time in 2008. Project complexity also grew with multiple buildouts for Writhlington School and refurbishment and extension of Northcliffe House, now Colston 33, in Bristol City Centre.
By 2003, we had outgrown the Cottage, and the prospect of moving to Londonderry Farm near Keynsham became a reality. Some clever reworking of two adjacent business units saw the creation of 3,500 sq ft of good quality - if a bit quirky - office space with both a fantastic outlook and a startling range of temperature!
A large residential development at Jacob Street, Old Market for Bath based developers Ashlar, and an extension to Bristol and Clifton Golf Club followed. In 2004 the practice was discussing the possible locations for library provision in central east Bristol with Bristol City Council and came across the Baptist Mills site. Ten years later this emerged as the highly visible and award-winning Junction 3 / Baptist Mills Court mixed use development designed by architect David Martyn. Also in the mid 2000’s the company was approached by Bristol Water to carry out the feasibility for refurbishment and extension to their Headquarters building at Bedminster Down. Again, this was a project due to take the best part of a decade to reach completion in 2015, led by Jeremy Pilling supported by fantastic work from Michael Hanson and Tom Mellor.
In 2007, the office travelled to Barcelona for a weekend study tour and in the following March, the venue was Wroclaw in Poland hosted by Ewa Bubnicka-Gyde. During this period the company became established with many developing housing associations and became a major player in the design of affordable homes in the South West. To date we have delivered well over fifteen hundred homes across the region. Colin Powell, with his passionate interest in sustainable and low energy design, has led this sector which benefits from a large volume of repeat business. It also encouraged Colin to enrol in a Masters degree in Environmental Design at Cardiff University and later to study to become a certified Passivhaus designer.
In 2006, gcp was invited to present proposals for updating of two London Parks in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The resulting jobs run by Michael Hanson remain hugely successful and appreciated by the local communities which they serve. In 2007, gcp’s long links with Pearce Construction led to three new commissions at Rolls Royce in Filton led by Martin Spear and later for the MOD on Salisbury Plain and in Warminster led by Siobhan Tarr, as well as the complicated refurbishment of Kingswood Swimming Pool for Circadian Leisure and warehousing for Toyota at Portbury Dock.
In 2007 the business first looked at the Torpoint Road site in Knowle West for Knightstone Housing Association which was eventually delivered in 2016 by Kier Construction using gcp as construction stage architects. In 2008 the practice delivered the beautifully understated Cooper’s Court development in Tiverton for South Western Housing Society who remain one of our most valued clients.
In our thirty years of business this period was the most difficult, fighting our way through a recession that was both deep and long lasting. Housing Association work continued through this difficult spell, although turnover suffered and the company decided that staff redundancies would be inevitable. Survival was far from assured but a relatively healthy pipeline, a flexible approach to commissions and a very understanding staff base were crucial. However, by 2011 the company had completed the impressive Ducrow Court mixed use development for Knightstone Housing Association and in 2012 the Bristol Water refurbishment project finally got underway. This was swiftly followed by the delivery phase of Torpoint Road and in 2013 the commission from Midas Construction to support the building out of Filwood Green Business Park.
All grown up
After a very happy ten years in Londonderry Farm it was time to move on, and Corum 2, Warmley, became our fifth and current home in 2013 with Natalie Lock and Maria Steward as joint office manager.
Also in 2013, Colin picked up our first PassivHaus commission for a new family home in Oxfordshire. Further PassivHaus projects followed and the practice has supported PassivHaus Thursday and The Bristol Big Green Week. In 2010, we started working for the Technology Strategy Board, now Innovate UK, to peer-review technically innovative research grant applications.
We started working with Bristol City Council on their Warmer Homes Project in 2014, leading to the refurbishment of seven tower blocks with external wall insulation. We are currently working on similar retrofit projects at Rennes House with Exeter City Council and the David Murray John Tower in Swindon. In 2015, we undertook the refurbishment of 155 Aztec West for BNP Paribas Estates and Rydon Construction for fit out by tenants Hoare Lea.
Larger social housing projects continued to be developed with a series of projects for EG Carter and Halsall Construction, but lately the lack of grant has led to many of our affordable housing clients becoming private developers in order to cross-subsidise social housing. This has led to work in the private sector with recent commissions for Linden Homes and Acorn Developments led by Jon Briscoe and Siobhan Tarr.
In 2016, we were invited to prepare a feasibility for a major Government Agency for a possible expansion and started working with three local manufacturing companies to expand their facilities with Martin Spear and James Pilling to the fore. New clients include St. Monica’s Trust and Mi-Space and we look forward to opportunities arising from our success in being placed on new frameworks such as Crown Commercial Services and South Western Consultants.
We live in an uncertain world, but our current pipeline figures are higher than at any time in the last five years and the Directors look forward optimistically to working with new and existing clients as we move into our 31st year. The Directors would like to reiterate their thanks to all clients and staff who have supported the business so loyally over our formative years.