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Women’s rehabilitation centre Hope Street wins 2024 MacEwen Award

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Eleanor Young

‘Architecture that is healing people’: Hope Street in Southampton is a generous and visionary scheme by Snug Architects that almost had one of the judges in tears

A home for women in the justice system sounds like it should be a prison. But in fact Hope Street, this year’s RIBA MacEwen Award winner, is an alternative to prison. When magistrates look to give community sentences for non-violent offences they have to ensure these can be carried out in a safe place, not a home with abusive partner or a shared house where drugs are in regular use. Without a safe place a custodial sentence in prison is the only option. Hope Street, designed by Snug Architects, is an attempt to create such a place for women in Hampshire. They can treat it like their home, their children can live with them in shared flats around an elegantly planted courtyard, and there is support through trauma care and shared activities in the calm and uplifting communal rooms. 

The project is the result of the tireless lobbying, activity, funding and fundraising of Lady Edwina Grosvenor and the charity One Small Thing. They had to ensure the agencies that fed into it where on board. ‘It is transformative. It is a bold move on behalf of the organisations involved in the justice system,’ said MacEwen judge Isabelle Priest.

The counselling room at Hope Street has the aura of a chapel with added warmth and comfort from the timber, carpet and acoustic treatment.
The counselling room at Hope Street has the aura of a chapel with added warmth and comfort from the timber, carpet and acoustic treatment. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

The judges also commented on the fact that it is unusual for the prize-winner to have this sort of privilege and clout behind it. But it is clear that the charity’s activities on the ground – running the women’s probation service in the area and previous work setting up trauma counselling – have fed strongly into identifying the need and setting out a clear brief for this pioneering building type. 

First of the all the building is to be a home and one that rehabilitates women who are likely to have suffered trauma. Lady Edwina was strongly influenced by Maggie’s Centres and their emphasis on comfort and hospitality. Efforts to avoid the sense of an institution are clear from the outset, from the café frontage to the understated desk with shelving for informal decorations. The café will be up and running shortly and will provide not only a route into work for the inhabitants of Hope Street but a point where the women and wider community can come together. This is, after all, a place for rehabilitation, a chance to help women avoid being further drawn into crime. 

A pair of two-storey blocks look into the courtyard. Away from the street, most protected from unwanted visitors, are the eight shared flats with modest bedrooms around serviceable kitchen and living spaces. Bedrooms open onto the quiet backlands of gardens with angled, obscured windows. The open balcony is timber-lined and overlooks the courtyard, giving more sense of space.

  • Hope Street is situated on a bus route into the city centre.
    Hope Street is situated on a bus route into the city centre. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • A covered bench offers an informal space for a conversation.
    A covered bench offers an informal space for a conversation. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

But it is the communal hub building where the project really comes into its own and moves from creating a safe home to rehabilitation. ‘Hope Street is the only project that almost had me crying… we hear of the architect as being a doctor of space and this is an example of architecture that is healing people,’ said judge Alex Scott-Whitby. In these communal areas the scale is grander, with larger rooms. The building is conceived as three volumes to fit with the villas alongside it in the spacious street. Its sloping roofs are hollowed out to create dramatic internal volumes with wood-lined soffits up to roof lanterns. That might seem unusually excessive in the offices spaces and even the street-facing seminar room, but the open roof volume makes a remarkable counselling space, bestowing on it the air of a chapel. It is only small but the volume is mostly made up above it, with an anteroom that keeps it very calm and offers an alternative private space in which to decompress if the conversations get too much. Acoustically cocooned with thick carpet, it is all designed to give a sense of psychological safety. ‘There is a spiritual element to it,’ admits Lady Edwina. Even the staircase leading up to it has a sense of ritual to it. 

Staff areas, including a spacious kitchen and secluded terrace, are generous – a deliberate strategy by the charity. ‘It is important to have good staff space,’ affirms Lady Edwina, who wants staff happy enough to give their best in an often trying role, and to keep them at Hope Street.

The brick-lined ‘flank’ walls of each of the three volumes of the hub create a variety of spaces.
A semi-open stair to the first floor flats allows natural surveillance.

The charity One Small Thing emphasises the importance of compassion, empathy and respect. Sensitivity to both those who stay and those who work here is written into the architecture, in diagram and the details. The building is designed to ease the transition from court and police custody suite by welcoming the women through a discreet second front door into an open room where the necessary paperwork can be done in comfort. Baskets hold a selection of bedding and pyjamas for new residents to choose from. 

The deep walls and reveals, driven by the CLT structure, are used to give a sense of permanence and that is accentuated by the brick surfaces of what would be the flank walls of each of the three ‘villa’ volumes, which create clear circulation from the front to the back of the communal building. There are views through wherever possible and timber and brass finishes are used generously, so the building reads more as a generous community space than an institution. 

Walking into the kitchen and living room it was clear that the first occupants were enjoying the freedom of a spacious kitchen with a shared cooking session. One semi-secluded corner acts as a playroom; space for children is critical to avoiding destructive family separations. And there is a visiting room where members of the wider family can be entertained without trespassing on the personal space of other residents. Sofas, lamps and cork boards to pin up kids’ drawings make the place more homely. These seem like intuitive touches but they are also based on evidence. As a result of consultations with women who had experience of the justice system and guidance the design avoids known triggers for trauma, using things like rounded corners and muted colours. It seems to be making a difference. One of the women told me, happily: ‘This place is totally unexpected, it’s really good and you’re not judged.’

New Hope Street almost had me crying… this is an example of architecture that is healing people

  • The welcome lounge where residents are introduced to Hope Street, often fresh from a custody suite.
    The welcome lounge where residents are introduced to Hope Street, often fresh from a custody suite. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • Inside the café, where all are welcome.
    Inside the café, where all are welcome. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus
  • Communal kitchen, living and eating spaces.
    Communal kitchen, living and eating spaces. Credit: Craig Auckland, Fotohaus

The street-front composition of the building seems to matter the least for its mission. But its three villas, calm buff brick with neat soldier courses and timber window frames, reveal again the desire for dignity and a productive interface with the outside world. This project got through planning first time. Its unassuming and civil architecture works with the language of housing for justice-involved women to frame it as a good neighbour. Judge Je Ahn of Studio Weave said: ‘It is architecturally refined and deals with difficult thematic issues.’

‘This is just the beginning,’ explained Lady Edwina. Since the project got under way the charity has also bought the house next door, building a nursery for children living in Hope Street and updating the house with well-managed rooms to rent that could give women the next step on the road to rehabilitation. This is a project that should work to help women in the justice system and help avoid the societal costs of sending women to prison unnecessarily. And even if it doesn’t, the scheme has always included a consideration for how it might be reused, perhaps as a women’s shelter or a place for those coming off drugs. But however it evolves, architecture and social purpose work in harmony here, the one enabling the other. 

See more MacEwen projects and architecture for the common good 


Construction cost £7.5m 
Cost per m² £5300/m²
Hub gia 820m² 
Residential gia 538m² 
Total gia 1358m² 


Client One Small Thing
Architect Snug Architects
Employer’s agent BECM
Interior designer Focus Design
Landscape architect Harris Bugg Studio
Structural and civil engineer Calcinotto
CLT Subcontractor Eurban
Main contractor Chisolm and Winch
Approved building control inspector Sweco
MEP consultant Mesh Energy
Local planning authority Southampton City Council



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