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Refuge Assurance Building Manchester – Asbestos in the ballroom

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Last Updated on 19 February 2024

Refuge Assurance Building Manchester – Asbestos in the ballroom

This is a short story about one of the most beautiful buildings in Manchester, the Refuge Assurance Building, and learning a valuable lesson in a career as an asbestos surveyor.

It’s 1995 and around 8 years after the closure of the Refuge Assurance Building on Oxford Road in Manchester. Richard Newman, the owner of the Principal Hotels Group, has purchased to develop this iconic empty Grade 2 listed building designed by Alfred Waterhouse.

Fortunately for me, I got the call to carry out the asbestos survey, prior to the redevelopment. Working with a brilliant Project Manager who was overseeing the refurbishment, I set about the mammoth task of getting under the skin of this Victorian monster. The best parts of our survey work on properties like these are the beautiful ornate features such as Victorian lantern lights which are virtually irreplaceable, and in this particular case, watching skilled Artisan tradesmen from Italy repairing the Carrara Marble staircase (Michelangelo’s David is made from the same marble).

Asbestos survey of the Refuge Assurance Building Manchester

My favourite story from my time here was a double-edged sword, a sort of triumph and failure if you will. Picture the scene. I am in the basement having spent a few weeks starting at the top of the clock tower and working downwards. There are a series of locked doors which seem to surround a space that was expansive, with no way in. I went to talk to the contract manager Richard Adkins (one of the best I have worked with) to explain the situation.

He said, “Greg, we have no plans for the basement and no plans to do any work here at this time, don’t worry about it”. I said, “Rich, it’s a big space, you may have to access it at some point so it’s worth a look”. We went to the basement and then had to engage a skilled joiner to open some double doors carefully, as they were original, ornate and part of the ‘listing’.

The ballroom is discovered

We both walked in and stood in stunned silence for a few seconds then looked at each other. In front of us was a full Victorian Ballroom (It’s described here in this link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimpton_Clocktower_Hotel) Rich got out his phone and called the owner Richard Newman whilst standing next to me. “Richard, you know the Refuge Assurance Building Hotel we are working on? Do you want a ballroom with it?”

The dance floor to the ballroom (I have been underneath it) was sprung the same as the famous ‘Tower Ballroom’ in Blackpool (think Strictly – Blackpool week). It has huge handles which can turn up the tension in the wood floor and make it ‘springier’. All in all it was a fabulous space which went on to become a large function room when it was transformed into the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, Manchester. I surveyed the space and found a few items of interest but nothing significant. A few weeks later I got a call saying there was a leak above the ballroom and some plaster had dropped from the ceiling.

Discovery of asbestos loose fill insulation

Straight away it was obvious this wasn’t just plaster.  It was a thick hard plaster covering with loose fill asbestos insulation behind it. Further inspection revealed all the ceiling infills to the ornate plaster ceiling and walls were the same material. I had no idea why it was there as it made no sense from a building perspective, other than some extra level of fireproofing. I have never seen anything similar since.  However, I had missed it on the original inspection and it taught me a valuable lesson going forward.

Since this time, our organisation have been lucky enough to work on many listed properties and build our skill set. Working on these properties is the best part of our job as you get to go ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak.

The former Refuge Assurance Building, following development by Principal Hotels, has changed hands a few times since their tenure. Currently known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, Manchester. If you are around Oxford Road Manchester and you get chance to look inside, it is certainly time well spent. I have included a link and some photos by an interesting article written about the property.


Need professional advice?

We hope you found our article about our experience at the Refuge Assurance Building in Manchester informative.  If you need any help or advice in regards to asbestos in your property then we’ll be very happy to assist you.  Give us a call and our experts will give you some advice and guidance on whatever if is you’re concerned about.

Please contact us on 0800 141 2676, email us at info@rbasbestos.co.uk or fill in the form below.

Our professional surveyors conduct inspections and surveys every day across the UK on all types of properties, both residential and commercial, for private home owners and commercial property Managers and owners.  So when it comes to managing ACMs in your property, you’re in very safe hands with RB!!

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