Heritage Buildings’ Role in Social Impact with Purcell

March 31, 2023

“Nowhere is this spirit of physical, social, cultural and environmental restoration encapsulated more clearly than in the reimagining of Alice Billings House”

Purcell, our architectural partners for Alice Billings House, share how the conservation of heritage buildings in a fast-changing city can centre a community and play a role in social impact.

Purcell was founded 75 years ago on an instinct to save heritage buildings before they were lost in the post-war rush to rebuild Britain. Today we are the largest architecture practice specialising in heritage and conservation. The nature of regeneration through repurposing buildings can be a catalyst for creativity and much of our work interfaces with artists, galleries and museums. Adapting old buildings for new uses, extending, modernising and making them accessible and socially relevant has a new urgency as we face up to the impacts of climate change. What may once have seemed the opposite of innovation is rapidly being understood as vital for a decarbonised future. We now reuse buildings not only for their architectural and cultural value, but also for their carbon.

Conservation architecture is often about more than restoring the fabric of a building and can be instrumental in helping to shape the identity and spirit of a community. As architects we strongly believe that successful projects evolve out of a collaborative process with our clients and local communities, to understand how buildings can have a new relevance for wider and diverse audiences. Our restoration of Holyhead Market Hall in Wales returned a previously derelict building to the community as a modern, sustainable centre, housing a library and flexible event space. The project won the Community Social Impact of the Year award.

Heritage can be seen as the continuing history of everything, and at its most engaging, is a touchstone connecting us with the past in a way that doesn’t limit or undermine the future uses of a building. A recent example of this has been our restoration of Boston Manor in Hounslow, a Grade-I listed manor house. With support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the property has been carefully restored and adapted to transform a dilapidated building into a community asset and a creative hub for emerging artists and designers. While the house has been returned to its historic splendour, the old service wing, which once housed facilities such as the laundry and dairy for the manor house, has been reimagined as light and airy flexible maker-spaces, part of which is now occupied by the Jimmy Choo Academy, enabling young talent from less advantaged backgrounds to learn creative skills and crafts.

Nowhere is this spirit of physical, social, cultural, and environmental restoration encapsulated more clearly than in the reimagining of Alice Billings House. It is an inspiring example of Local Authority and the Creative Land Trust coming together to provide much needed investment in local communities, and we are thoroughly enjoying working with the Trust in realising their vision for workspaces and affordable studios for artists and creatives to come together and grow with the building, continuing the story for the next generations.

L-R: Image 1 and 2: Jimmy Choo Academy at Boston Manor House (Photographer Jay Anderson); Image 3: Holyhead Market Mall