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Safety designed into complex roofscape

26th May 2023

When specialist carehome builder Lawrence Baker, approached Donaldson Timber Engineering for a bespoke roof design last year, it was obvious that an experienced designer like Sue Darbyshire should be given the challenge.

Sue has just celebrated 25 years with Donaldson Timber and has been designing roofs for Lawrence Baker, based in Oxfordshire for over two decades, so she knew exactly what approach to take, to overcome the complexities of the project.

The purpose-built care home would accommodate 67 residents and have a complex mechanical and electrical (M&E) component which included plant that needed to be concealed from view. The roof had to be designed to facilitate the installation of the plant while allowing the external roof envelope to be covered. It also needed to allow easy access for future maintenance.

Hidden plant

Sue opted for a “half attic” style of trussed rafter design to meet these requirements, incorporating vertical wall members into the truss design. This solution also reduced construction time on site and made hiding the M&E plant within the roof structure easier.

Reducing the risks while working at height

One of the other key challenges of this project was to reduce working at height risks during construction. Sue’s design incorporated the necessary falls to a large flat roof area, significantly reducing the site-fixed firring timbers required during construction. This helped minimise any working at height risks and provided a more efficient and streamlined construction process.

Despite the building’s irregular size, shape, steps, and staggers, Sue’s design skilfully catered for these complexities. By carefully considering every aspect of the roof structure’s design, Sue created a solution that met the client’s requirements while providing significant cost and time savings during construction.

Sue’s design won the commercial project of the year award in the TRA’s inaugural Roofscape Design Awards in April, with the judges noting the multifaceted nature of the project:

They commented: “A most competent and innovative overall roof design, the most complex of the entries received in all categories.  A winning combination of design expertise and creative thinking. 

This was a large and complex roof with many steps and staggers, also featuring a requirement for M & E plant to be hidden within the roof structure with the consequent installation and maintenance access challenges”.

Sue, who recently celebrated her 60th birthday said: “This project appealed to me because I enjoy the problem solving and looking at the amount of creativity that can be brought to a roofscape despite existing planning constraints. In today’s care homes, where there is so much equipment that needs to be incorporated, and the need to achieve maximum usage from within the roof space, it is essential to adapt a roof design to suit customer requirements. The skill is arriving at a design that pleases customers and manufacturing depots.”

Sue started working as a buyer for a building company but decided to make the change and learn about roof truss design.  She continued: “I thought roof design sounded really interesting and here I am 25 year later, although I have recently reduced my working hours a little.”


WINNER: Donaldson Timber Engineering – New Care Home, Canterbury
Sue Darbyshire –


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