We were delighted to be invited to deliver a talk for MESH Energy on the topic of ‘Community Retrofits’. As social architects this is an area we feel very passionately about. As a practice we are interested in work that is for the good of the people and planet, and are especially drawn to schemes which don’t involve demolition. In this talk we discuss a selection of our community retrofits, from a refurbished church to a reimagined high street.
Our largest scale retrofit project we have delivered is St Margaret’s church in Portsmouth. The church had been previously condemned, due to the roof, and the congregation were using a town hall nearby, leaving the beautiful church building to decay.
At the very start of the project, we engaged with the community to listen to what they really needed from the project, rather than going in with plans that might not fit their needs. Through this collaborative approach we have delivered the original church back to the community, a light and bright space with modern heating, community space for a variety of needs (such as a food bank, children’s play area and second-hand clothes store) and additional washroom facilities.
It is humbling to think what a positive impact we have had on the city, if the church had been left to rot just think how worse off the community would have been. A refit project may not always be easy but it is so worthwhile, to see the impact this has had on the city.
In Bedford Place in Southampton, we reimagined the urban realm following the road closures, in connection to Covid measurements. Our proposal looked at cost effective strategies to activate and animate the area, looking at opportunities around the road closure which could benefit all in the community. This was a very emotive topic, with so many stakeholders involved, and our countries reliance on personal cars, it was always going to be difficult. Instead of getting entangled in that argument, we changed the conversation focus and talked about the 15-minute city, this allowed us to circumnavigate those initial resistances.
The project has been a massive success, hospitality in the area has not just survived over this difficult time, but thrived. The area of Carlton Terrace has even set up a working group, looking to make the area of Carlton Terrace permanently closed to traffic. This project has proved what a positive change we can make to the existing conditions of the urban realm, through small changes it is possible to still have a beneficial influence on society.
As a design practice we fundamentally believe that each project can have a positive impact to the built environment, this is not just something we give lip service to, we want to make real change.
You can find the full talk for free on the MeshWorks platform, a low-energy and sustainable building design community portal, we hope you enjoy it and it can inspire you to make a positive change.