Oily Cart \

A place to spark imaginations

Oily Cart creates theatre for children and young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties across the UK.

The Challenge

Since 1981 Oily Cart has taken its unique form of theatre to children and young people in schools and venues across the UK. Challenging accepted definitions of theatre and audience, they create innovative, multi-sensory and highly interactive productions for the very young and for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

For the last 20 years they have occupied a Grade 2 listed annexe to a school in South London where they have rehearsal space, administrative offices, creative studios and workshops.

Our brief was to re-organise their modest building to meet their functional needs whilst improving accessibility, efficiency, and identity.

“The completion of the building marks a landmark moment in our history and we’re very proud of our beautiful new building.”

Oily Cart

The Big Idea

We have worked closely with Oily Cart since 2002 to develop a sustainable building that will serve the organisation into the future. During this time we have acted as both architect and advocate for the work that they do, supporting them with fundraising and awareness building.

Within a modest budget we have helped structure a transformation of their building that offers a variety of flexible and versatile spaces for the inception, production and rehearsal of their special form of theatre.

A new ‘golden lift’ has been installed to deliver step free access to the first floor, a mezzanine ‘treehouse’ offers 50% more office floor space, newly serviced clean and dirty workshops have been rationalised to offer improved working environments and services consolidated to liberate space and improve efficiencies.

The Small Detail

Nothing pleases us more than a building that meets the needs of our client, and one that is instantly embraced and put to good use. At Oily Cart space is utilised in many ways – often unexpected and certainly not anticipated. The mezzanine ‘tree house’ has been used as a changing room and make up studio, photographic studio and meeting room. The studio workshop is easy to transform to enable the users to make large props, costumes and scenery. Almost as soon as our client moved back in the building they made a hole in the ceiling creating a fixing for an aerial acrobat! The building can accommodate these various uses with dignity and ease. We have created something fitting and purposeful for Oily Cart but also one that is adaptable and versatile, sustainable and long lasting – hopefully meeting the needs of their organisation for a long time to come.

The below model was made to support the client’s fundraising efforts, and went on to be selected for the Architecture Room at the Royal Academy 2010 Summer Exhibition.

  • Project Details
  • Sustainability

Project Summary


  • AJ Retrofit Awards 2015 - Cultural Buildings - Shortlisted
  • RIBA Awards 2014 - London Regional Award - Winner
  • BD Architect of the Year Awards 2012 - Refurbishment - Shortlisted


As a listed building it was important that the environmental improvements made did not compromise the important heritage features of the building.

A sensitive approach was adopted:

  • Restoration work carried out where needed
  • Existing glazing was repaired and draught stripped
  • The roof was insulated
  • Embodied energy of the renovation work was kept to a minimum, such as retaining soffit dry-lining where possible.
  • The building services were removed and replaced by new low energy systems.
  • Highly efficient lighting with a control system was installed, enabling users to have control over their environment, with light levels appropriate to the relevant work area
  • Absence detectors for lighting installed
  • Internal partitions have been removed to increase natural daylight penetration
  • A highly efficient condensing gas boiler was installed and heating system renovated
  • The building is now zoned to ensure that individuals working in different areas, undertaking different activities can regulate and control the temperature.
  • Fixed building services were designed with flexibility in mind. This allows the building users to adapt the building to their needs as these evolve without the need for costly and energy intensive alterations. This is especially true of the workshop areas where the layout may need to change on a regular basis.
  • Existing chimney stacks are now used to provide stack driven natural ventilation.
  • Any mechanical ventilation used, such as in wc areas has heat recovery
  • Water use is minimised by use of efficient sanitaryware fittings.
  • Localised filtration in the workshops negates the need for large-scale workshop extraction units.

The building occupier has been supplied with operating and maintenance manuals to enable the most effective use of the building. This includes an allowance for training of employer’s staff and providing a manual that is clear and concise and which will give the user the means by which to monitor and reduce their energy consumption, pollution and use of natural resources

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