‘A beacon of hope to act as a catalyst for wider regeneration’
Sheerness Dockyard Church, Isle of Sheppey, Kent
Hugh Broughton Architects with Martin Ashley Architects for Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust
Contract cost: £5.7m
The Isle of Sheppey is a place of contrasts. Sitting in the Thames Estuary between Kent and Essex, it is strangely disconnected, with nature reserves and marshy flatlands incongruously juxtaposed with three prisons, caravan parks and a busy, working port. Views across the water are highly industrial.
The Naval Dockyard had employed 2500 people before it closed in 1960, the resulting in economic decline rendering Sheerness one of Britain’s most deprived coastal communities. Yet at the entrance to the port is George Ledwell Taylor’s 19th century grade II* listed Dockyard Church. Deconsecrated in 1970 and fire-damaged, it was on Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk’ register. In 2016 the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust began a community consultation; to address economic deprivation it was decided to create a subsided business incubator. ‘We wanted the restoration of Dockyard Church to be beautiful and inspiring – bringing excitement and opportunity to a deprived and overlooked area of north Kent,’ explained client William Palin of the Trust.
After a seven-year process involving £9.5million of investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Kent Foundation (which assists young entrepreneurs) among others, the revivified church offers a popular café and displays of the 19th century Dockyard Model. It is managed by Island Works – which established the business incubator and hosts community meetings, craft fairs, networking events and the like.
Architectural interventions to the interior include preservation and reuse of the original fabric alongside structural repairs and contemporary additions. While new steelwork was required to support the fire-damaged tower, a natural ventilation strategy and energy-efficient lighting were introduced, with walls left exposed so their thermal mass could regulate temperatures. Glulam flitch trusses support a new roof, itself highly insulated. Where possible, all labour and materials were sourced in north Kent, even the apprentices. ‘If you look into it, it is remarkable to deliver such a project in that place,’ commented judge Alex Scott-Whitby, observing a high-tech ‘Hopkins influence’ on the interior.
‘The building needed to be a beacon of hope which would act as a catalyst for wider regeneration. The result exceeded all our expectations,’ commented Palin. ‘This project does feel really hopeful,’ concurred judge Stacey Barry.