Members of the general public, when told that there is an award for the design for a petrol filling station, may say ‘But surely they are all the same?’. Obviously, those in the industry know otherwise, as the building and design of forecourts has evolved with the ever-changing needs of today’s drivers and shoppers. Space may not always allow for grandiose plans, but architects have an amazing knack of getting everything in the right place.
Knockdown rebuilds are a common practice in the industry with tired, old sites replaced with shinier ones with better services and amenities. But knocking down a pub and replacing it with a forecourt, well that is a little more unusual. However, that is just what the winner of the Forecourt Trader of the Year, Tout’s Cleeve in Somerset did, and it’s been a massive success.
The Touts, who are no strangers to the Forecourt Trader Awards, having won the top accolade back in 2008, transformed the struggling Lord Nelson Pub into a community-centric ‘Local Centre’. Their goal was to create a convenient location where people could access their regular needs. The result is a two-acre space that houses a 4,100sq ft Tout’s store, Esso forecourt, 82-capacity lounge/restaurant called ‘The Maple’, 12-capacity hair salon, 40-seater training facility and head office. The forecourt and car park have been designed for easy traffic and pedestrian circulation, with extra-wide parking spaces. The Touts also created an orchard and chef’s garden where people can enjoy picnics in the summer and community events.
Food art, knowledge and theatre
The store was founded on the principles of food art, knowledge and theatre. Key categories are highlighted and there are heaps of local lines but overall it has a clean, crisp supermarket feel. Upon entering the shop, customers are greeted by a curved living wall and flowers from a local florist. Filled-to-the-brim produce cases, positioned in a funnel shape, guide customers down the fresh aisle. Design features to look out for include the refrigerated meat encased in Himalayan Rock Salt, to create an authentic dry aging effect. Move to the off-licence section and you’re greeted with the look of a classic wine cellar but with modern design elements.
Tout’s brand director, Zena Tout, says: “Our £6m development in Cleeve has been a labour of love and passion, resulting in a unique and authentic experience for our customers and teams. Cleeve is our first concept site that contains all the things people want quickly and in-person.”
The thoughtful design even extends to the site’s 10 public toilets. The quality of the fittings is apparent, and the facilities have a Victorian design with animal accents via the door hangers and toilet brush holders. Zena says this unique and thoughtful design sets it apart from other facilities and adds an extra touch of class and elegance to the customer experience. As a result, she says they have been inundated with customer compliments.
From pints to litres
Another pub site that has become a forecourt is The Swan at Mirfield in West Yorkshire. The pub was demolished back in 2015 because of safety concerns and now Salim and Mumtaz Patel have opened a forecourt on the site. To make sure they had enough space for a big forecourt they purchased the house next door to the pub, which gave them nearly an acre of land.
Says Salim: “We designed the shop with floor-to-ceiling windows giving it lots of natural light. However, we still wanted to keep a traditional feel, so we chose dark brickwork and an asymmetrical roof. The old house had a plaque called Rhos Point; we kept this on the shop front and ended up naming our company Rhos Point Retail Limited.”
Because of the pub’s importance to locals, the Patels also kept the old Swan pub signage. ,
The shop spans 3,000sq ft and includes a hot food kitchen. Each corner of the shop has been designed with a slatted bulkhead overlooking each area to bring a “subtle yet distinctive” design to the shop.
The forecourt itself has been designed with plenty of space and the Patels worked with the local council to create an additional lane so cars could turn in without causing a delay to any oncoming traffic.
Says Salim: “As we wanted to create a destination site, we also erected three 1,000sq ft retail units which were designed to mirror the shop with high glass frontages and dark brickwork. We also put in further parking which took the whole site parking to 32 spaces. On top of this we secured four high-speed EV charging points from BP Pulse, which matched the branding and design of the forecourt.”
Keeping it local
Two Henderson Group sites were finalists in the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards for their design: Spar Mallusk in Newtownabbey and Spar Route in Ballymoney.
The redeveloped Spar Mallusk opened in November 2022. The design approach was to expand the existing site to improve customer parking and to create an innovative food-to-go focused retail facility and petrol fuel station. The contract was awarded to a local contractor-led team and was overseen by a specialist design team. The project presented several challenges, including redeveloping the adjacent commercial building on a live fuel site while undertaking demolition works to create the new spacious customer parking and drive-thru facility. However, it was successfully completed on time and on budget over a nine-month construction period.
The redeveloped Spar store boasts new service concepts such as in-store butchery, in-store bakery and production, Subway, Delish hot food deli and there is a Barista coffee drive-thru.
Meanwhile, the new-build Spar Route service station opened its doors to the public in December 2022. Here the design approach was to ‘sensitively’ expand the existing site, to improve customer parking and to create a modern and innovative retail facility with newly upgraded petrol fuel station. The contract was again awarded to a local contractor. And again, the project presented several challenges, including constructing the new retail building on a live site and undertaking phased demolition works to create the new spacious fuel forecourt with new below-ground fuel tanks, a new forecourt canopy, and new fuel pump dispensers. However, it was successfully completed on time and on budget.
Mark Adrain, group property director at the Henderson Group, explains how the site work was carried out: “The site was located adjacent to established residential surroundings and our design approach was therefore to avoid impacting on the local context through building scale and access. During the construction stage, the works were also undertaken to be considerate and to minimise impact on our neighbours, and our community team engaged with neighbours to ensure they were informed of the works and the timescales involved.”
Adrain says it takes a very wide range of contractors and suppliers to come together to deliver such complex projects. “We have a range of trusted contractors who have learned to deliver quite complex projects while always having a mind to safety and the needs of our customers.
“We have many local suppliers and all construction contracts are tendered among local contractors and specialist suppliers.
“We do this to support the local economy; creating construction jobs in the commercial retail and fuel forecourt sectors is very important to us. These projects will form part of the community and it is key to connect with the locality at as early a stage as possible.”
On time and on budget
Both Spar Mallusk and Spar Route were finished on budget and on time and Adrain says that is usually the case. “In order to achieve a successful project delivery, our project delivery team works closely with contractors from project initiation through to completion. Our team delivers a large programme of work every year, so it is important that these projects happen when they are planned so that our stakeholders can plan for them accordingly. “
With regards to design, he says the stores and forecourts are designed based on formats to best suit the site and local shopper needs with an eye on bringing something ‘new and exciting’ to the area.
Adrain continues: “However, retail convenience is a fast-changing environment and we are continually learning from our shoppers via feedback, as well as our wider team, so we are constantly improving and trying to bring forward innovation. This is the driver behind the design process and brings about some variety in our designs. The external and internal look and feel, however, is designed to be consistent with company branding and image, but also reflect local architectural character when it is important.”
When it comes to inspiration, Adrain says they explore new construction methods and proposition opportunities to deliver high quality retail facilities. “We also learn from our Spar colleagues from around the world, working with each other to discover new innovations and best practices. The company is striving to be a world-class community retailer and is always looking to other countries to see what we can learn and adapt our offer from.”
Penny on the Move
For Top 50 Indie Penny Petroleum, the design of their stores is really important. “Visually from the roadside, standing out against competitors and highlighting areas of the store to our customers are our main considerations,” explains COO Vicky Hennessy.
A big change for the company design-wise is the rebranding of the sites to ‘Penny on the Move’ to highlight the fact that Penny keeps its customers moving as well as symbolising how it is moving forward as a company.
Vicky says: “We are always sympathetic to the local area often using local images internally and designing toilets around important features of the community. As a local business, it is important to us to respect the area that we occupy.”
A good example is Scaling Dam Services Station (formally known as Safari Garage) which is situated on the A171 on the edge of a reservoir, which lies inside the North York Moors National Park.
Vicky takes up the story: “Formerly the site was an MOT business with a kiosk and petrol station attached, that had been closed for some time. When we took over the site in 2022, the majority of the infrastructure was in a derelict state. The old kiosk was demolished to allow more space on the forecourt and shop development was completed within the old MOT site. By retaining as much of the structure of the old building as possible, we reduced overall waste, saved time and also saved money.
“Our business model is to develop within the current structure of the building where possible, rather than knockdown rebuild. This helps support our sustainability and also tidies up often rundown sites. Feedback from customers has always been really positive and they are normally grateful for the investment.”
Vicky says they now have a number of formats that they can use depending on the size of the store as well as the locality. “Having a number of sites in rural areas, we have used aspects of the design to soften the structure of the building to the landscape.
“The shop at Scaling Dam was designed to be in keeping with the surroundings as much as possible, we wanted the feel of the shop to be bright and to allow the outside in as much as possible. The vaulted ceilings of the old building were kept and although the roof was replaced, we were able to keep the original skylights. The windows at the front of the shop were custom made to be 3m high to allow for as much light in the shop as possible. Wood effect finishes have been used to match the rural location.”
Large pictures of the reservoir have been incorporated within the shop and other pos material displaying local scenes.
In keeping with the ‘seaside’ theme of the area, toilets have been installed in the form of beach huts and decorated inside to commemorate the garage previously being known to locals as ‘Safari Garage.’
The forecourt area was completely refurbished, with new tanks and two x eight hose pumps and a complete resurface. A jet wash and car parking were added, and the exterior of the building has been cladded to protect from the sea air and also to soften the building against the surrounding area.
Other sites have been designed and developed depending on their history. At Bebside Service Station, Penny Petroleum converted an old MOT business into the shop. “We kept the concrete floor and polished it up, used the shape and structure of the current building and kept it in keeping with what the business had been known for before we took it over,” explains Vicky.
And at Grandstand Services, Morpeth, the site had previously sold animal supplies. “For this site weadded a ‘town and country‘ store. This means we sell horse feed, raw dog food and working dog feed and many other products that the local people need.”