The Brief: To implement a state-of-the-art kitchen into an existing servery in a Grade 1 listed, early 17th century building

When the decision-makers at Oxford's Exeter College decided something had to be done about their leading catering facility they knew they facing a unique challenge.

The fast'moving production line caters for students, fellows and hospitality clients, morning, noon and night, churning through 300 meals per day, and it was creaking within its shell ' a shell of wonderful character - but one that was nearly 400 years old.

FSC Ltd were called in to tackle the conundrum: to devise a workable solution that would provide efficient service, whilst fighting our way through a mountain of legislation, making perfect use of the limited space on offer and retaining the complete character of the surrounds. 'The kitchen was 30 years old and badly needed an upgrade,' said Bob Malpass, the Buildings Manager at Exeter College.

Our responsibility was to design a kitchen that satisfies both the caterer's needs and all the planning and architectural issues. Working with Robert Montgomery of Montgomery Architects, we negotiated a minefield of potential problems. We had lots of issues about access and different working levels, making sure we adhered to planning and English Heritage permissions throughout. We were looking at the fact we wanted a very hi-tech kitchen in a building that was built in about 1610.

The ventilation provided one of the biggest challenges; its degenerate state meant it was exuding grease and waste into the atmosphere and staining the outer building. A state-of-the-art, ultra-violet system was installed which travels up through the building and discharges at a high level with no smell and grease particles.

Best utilising the space ' or lack of it ' proved another hurdle to overcome. Bob Malpass told of how the team ethic led them to triumph in the potentially trying conditions. 'From the builders, Feltham, to the architect, Robert, we've worked well, often in a confined spaces. Of course, we couldn't have done it without Derek. How did we get a modern, hygienic kitchen into such a space? He's provided a first-rate, advanced kitchen and we are very pleased.'

It meant we had to pull on all of our 30-year experience within the industry, we had to set out the dishwasher and pot washer on one floor, the kitchen on another and the servery on yet another, and at the same time still allow for disabled access.

The catering operation needed to be kept functioning throughout the refurbishment so a temporary kitchen outside the college grounds was installed and the work was phased so that the servery was gutted and refurbished first, allowing the time disruption to the service area to be kept to a minimum.

There were other issues to address. Introducing the correct hardware required searching a little further a field than normal. This was a particularly awkward contract, we would normally write a spec and tender it to half a dozen kitchen houses and choose a best fit, but the client wanted to break up the tender to try and save costs, so, working in consultation with the head chef and general manager, we sourced the main cooking suite direct with the manufacturer, eventually settling on a bespoke model from Germany. The dishwashing facility is in the old building where there is a very low ceiling, so we had to investigate a machine that had the capacity but also would physically fit. We've had to go to Scandinavia to find the right dishwasher.'

The kitchen was successfully completed after a 9 month building programme and opened by Anton Mosimann in October 2005.

New bulk cooking ranges
New prime cooking suite
Pre-refurbishment main kitchen
Exeter College, Oxford University