Winning an award for your work is one of the greatest compliments, but for Nick Jacob and Hugh Bunbury, the real pleasure comes from seeing that beautiful space be embraced by the community. This is certainly the case with The Avenue Theatre in Ipswich.
Earlier this month, we won a “highly commended” award for our work on The Avenue Theatre. Judges at the RICS East of England Awards highlighted the project for excellence, celebrating our achievements in the plans, designs, construction and restoration of the building.
But even though we are delighted with the accolade, we are just as pleased that the client – the Red Rose Chain Theatre Company – now has a home to be proud of.
Who are The Red Rose Chain?
The Red Rose Chain are an entirely self-sustaining and independent theatre company that puts on original productions that confront social concerns, working with hard-to-reach or overlooked groups and vulnerable adults.
It boasts an exciting community programme that works with local school, youth groups, the disabled and the disadvantaged people in the area of Ipswich, increasing accessibility to the arts industry.
The organisation has been located in a series of buildings by Gippeswyk Hall in Ipswich for many years, but was desperate for new studio space to offer its services to more people in the area.
How it began
In 2010 the group decided to take down rehearsal buildings which has fallen into a state of disrepair. The ceilings were falling down, the central heating was ineffective and the kitchen was no longer fit for purpose.
The Red Rose Chain applied for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, keen to create a space which would accommodate a 120-seat theatre studio, back stage area and home for community projects.
Then a national design competition was launched to select the architects for the project. We knew we would be perfect to deliver on their vision, so we submitted a detailed proposal demonstrating our expertise and enthusiasm, especially as we collaborated with Charles Curry-Hyde who is known for his conceptual design talents.
We were absolutely delighted to be picked, refining the brief and developing the design before starting work.
A Grade II* Listed Tudor Manor was the site for development. It had a Victorian lean-to extension dating back to the 16th Century, along with a 1960s single storey pre-fabricated unit which was in very poor condition.
While the 1960s annexe had to come down, the lean-to offered an opportunity for restoration and renovation.
We replaced the 1960s extension with a sustainable and original building and created a modern kitchen within the Victorian lean-to, adding in a new bar and a dining room.
The Victorian arched window that created a second opening between the main entrance and the dining room was removed and used in the new kitchen.
The studio space was built in the style of a traditional Suffolk barn, linking to the Hall. The pitch and the width of the studio gable was made to match the existing proportions of the original building.
A glass connection between the two buildings was created to make a main public entrance with a foyer space and toilets. We also formed a courtyard with a seating area and planting.
All materials and finishes were picked to tie the Grade II* Listed Hall with the new build sympathetically. We selected a narrow pallet of materials including peg tiles on the roof to match the Hall and Siberian Larch vertical boarding for the studio.
Our idea was to blend the new and old to make the space as versatile as it was inspirational.
We used glass to build the foyer and entrance space to allow for it to be completely open in the summer months.
Internally we introduced a strong colour system to distinguish between private and public areas. Read (inspired by the company’s name) was used in the foyer and toilets, whilst green was used for the back of house areas.
A future for the community
The new studio theatre opened to the public in February 2015, offering an interactive and unique theatre experience as well as lots of other community benefits. The Red Rose Chain wanted to promote and echo its ethos – “we have a strong sense of community in the heart of everything we do”.
We took the time to work out which community outreach projects would benefit from this new space and we incorporated design to assist these.
For example, one project involved cooking and sharing meals – so we ensured the kitchen space was given a professional makeover to allow for large groups to work in there together.
We also ensured that the space was engaging and vibrant so it would appeal to the groups of vulnerable adults who meet weekly for the youth theatre and drama workshops.
The building is also accessible and suitable for people with disabilities, having wide access points, level floors and external pathways.
An award-winning success
As a heritage project, our work has improved and restored a neglected building, providing a brand new, beautiful space for new visitors to the area. Not only this, but it has created a resource and new home to a wonderful organisation – a theatre company which runs vital community projects and an education programme.
We are thrilled to win an award for our work. It has been a labour of love. But we are also very pleased that we have given this space back to its community who will benefit so much from it in the years to come.