Education & Skills

Learning institutions play a critical role in the success of the economy both by equipping people with the skills needed in a modern post-industrial economy and by attracting fee-paying students from around the world. In a global market, where nations compete to attract the best, competitive advantage comes both from the quality of the teaching and facilities but also from the learning environment: attractive schools and campuses, marrying historic and modern buildings, actively inspire people to learn.

Blenkinsopp Castle

The Simpson family acquired the scheduled monument (and Grade II listed) Blenkinsopp Castle, a fire damaged ruin, in 1955. As Gary Simpson was a builder by trade, he wanted to restore the castle himself when the time and opportunity arrived. That meant embracing a whole new set of traditional building skills, such as learning to build with lime mortar rather than cement, but doing this with our training and advice (under our former name of English Heritage) led Gary to discover a passion The company he formed to rescue neglected monuments has since worked on 17 other historic sites, nine of which were listed and 'at risk', two of which have won awards for craftsmanship. The company has trained one apprentice, has just taken on a second and provides short-term training places to help bursary students acquire traditional building skills - just the start of what promises to grow into a thriving small business.

Gary Simpson was short-listed in the 2012 English Heritage Angel Awards in the category for 'Best Craftmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue' for his work on Blenkinsopp Castle. He has also worked tirelessly with the Heritage Skills Initiative (HSI) delivering traditional crafts taster days, continuous professional development, masterclasses, walk-and-talk tours and school activities, as well as giving talks at heritage skills festivals and conferences.

It was great to get English Heritage's [now Historic England] support in securing a future for Blenkinsopp. We didn't think that they would allow us to do the work ourselves on such a sensitive structure, but they worked with us, giving us advice and financial support. Completing the repairs at Blenkinsopp was a very personal achievement for me and my family and a real, positive partnership with English Heritage [now Historic England].

Gary Simpson, Heritage Consolidation Limited.

DEVELOPER: The Simpson Family
ARCHITECT: Blackett-Ord Conservation Ltd

University of the Arts

In the case of the new University of the Arts, this inspiring environment has been created from a series of redundant warehouses set around the former marshalling yards to the north of King's Cross. Grade II warehouses designed to store coal, wheat, barley and potatoes for the growing 19th-century city now provide an exciting and edgy environment for students learning skills essential to the creative industries in which Britain excels.

The new campus combines contemporary design with a strong sense of place, rooted in a landscape that incorporates the historic canal basin and the railway architecture of an age of enterprise. The bringing together of five arts institutions on one site has had a major economic impact on the area, thanks to the spending power of up to 4,500 students, and to visitors who come to the campus to enjoy film and theatrical performances, exhibitions, fashion shows and concerts.

London's new University of the Arts is a dynamic, growing and changing place... the anchor to a new cultural hotspot in London.

Professor Vladimir Mirodan, Director of Development at the University of the Arts.

DEVELOPER: University of the Arts
ARCHITECT: Stanton Williams
LEAD PARTNERS: Argent, Camden Council


University of Worcester

Another building that has found a new role as part of an expanding university is the Grade II listed former Worcester Royal Infirmary, officially re-opened by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in May 2011 as a second campus for the University of Worcester.

We worked closely with the university authorities on the scheme to convert the handsome 18th- and 19th-century buildings of the former hospital into a multi-purpose space, incorporating teaching rooms, computer labs and conference facilities. The materials and design of the historic buildings have inspired a whole range of new structures, including two new halls of residence for up to 250 students and a cafeteria open to the public as well as university students and staff.

Occupying a key site, close to the station, it has been part of the vision for the site that it should be knitted into the life and economy of the city. Not only is the new campus helping to create future generations of managers and entrepreneurs, it encourages members of the existing business community of Worcester to use the meeting and conference facilities, attend lectures and courses and offer work experience opportunities to Worcester students.

DEVELOPER: University of Worcester
LEAD PARTNER: National Lottery Heritage Fund (formerly Heritage Lottery Fund)

King's Ely

The Old Bishop's Palace in Ely is a very important building historically, located in a highly visible position adjacent to Ely cathedral. It is listed Grade I and was used as the residence of the Bishops of Ely from the time that it was built by Bishop Alcock (1486-1501) until 1941. It then served successively as a Red Cross Hospital, a school for children with disabilities and then a Sue Ryder care home. When the care home closed and the former palace was put on the market, we encouraged King's Ely to buy the lease, knowing that the school was keen to expand to cater for their growing sixth-form.

Converting a disused care home into a new sixth-form centre, with classrooms, dining room, gym, bedrooms for boarders and offices for the school's administration staff could not be achieved without a large number of internal changes that required listed building consent, as well as the refurbishment of modern residences and some new extensions. In such circumstances, there is usually scope for give and take. One of our structural engineers gave detailed advice on the design of reinforcement to the main stairs to remove the need for visible bracketing. Advice was also provided about creating fire escape routes in the towers (the oldest spaces), and on floor strengthening and the design of the stair safety rail (required because of the use of the building by energetic teenagers). In return a rethink was called for concerning the subdivision of one important historic room, which would have had a harmful effect on the proportions of a significant space.

In turning a mediaeval palace, that had been used as a care home for decades, into a contemporary learning environment, we have done much to restore the building's former glory and original dimensions.

Sue Freestone, Head of King's Ely.

ARCHITECT: GSS Architecture

The Bramall Music Building

The masterplan for the buildings of Birmingham University, designed by Aston Webb between 1902 and 1907, consisted of a semi-circle of domed red-brick lecture blocks and libraries with lower linking buildings for offices and laboratories. Most of the scheme was completed in 1909, but there was one gap, which the Bramall Music Building now fills. The design is a modern reinterpretation of the Edwardian scheme, which responds to the acoustic requirements of the new building but still works within the volumes and constraints of the original vision. We encouraged retention of the most striking features of the existing Aston Webb buildings, with close attention to the design of the brickwork, stonework and lead domes. The 450-seat concert hall façades subtly reinterpret the design and proportion of the existing brickwork and stonework.

The Bramall Music Building has greatly extended Birmingham's already well-established reputation as an internationally renowned centre for music performance and study. A recent opening festival and a full programme of concerts draw music lovers from a wide area.

Professor Andrew Kirkman, Head of Department of Music, Birmingham University.

DEVELOPER: University of Birmingham
ARCHITECT: Glen Howell Architects

Brentwood School

Brentwood School lies partially within the Brentwood Conservation Area and includes a number of Grade II and Grade II* buildings and structures reflecting the contributions of local builders to the lively mix of building styles that have evolved since the school was founded in 1568. The aspiration to provide a new sixth-form centre, classrooms and assembly hall within the historic curtilage is just the latest in a long history of adding new buildings to cater for the school's developing needs. After looking at a number of options it was agreed that the replacement of some less important buildings from the 1930s would enable the architects to make more of the most significant buildings on the affected part of the site - especially Otway House, built in 1877 as a vicarage and with well-detailed brickwork.

We encouraged the architects to maintain architectural cohesion by incorporating historic elements, such as the diaper brickwork patterns of the Victorian house, into the design of the new buildings erected alongside. The way that the new and old buildings relate to each other has created interesting spaces between the buildings and adds to the lively variety of views from the street as well as from within the school, and the scheme won an RIBA award in 2012.  

DEVELOPER: Brentwood School
ARCHITECT: Cottrell & Vermeulen

The intention was to create a new building that complements and completes the existing Chancellor's Court Semicircle. The result is a building that successfully achieves this whilst retaining its own identity as a modern interpretation of the existing Byzantine buildings.

Will Schofield, Associate, Glenn Howells Architects