From a derelict church to an exemplar training hub

Once ravaged by fire and with many of its original features damaged beyond repair, the derelict St Winefride’s Church in Bootle, Merseyside has been transformed into an exemplar training hub which carefully marries the old with the new

Hugh Baird College acquired St Winefride’s Church in December 2014 with a vision to convert the former Catholic church into a training hub for its 200 health and social care students. One of three sites within the Hugh Baird campus, the college has just completed the refurbishment of the church into a teaching and social space and is currently transforming the former presbytery into a Life Rooms project, which will provide practical life skills and mental health support for the local community.

Funded by a £3.9m Local Growth Fund grant provided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the former church has undergone an extensive 35-week programme of refurbishment, construction and fit-out work, led by local contractor Crossfield Construction. The finished result is a unique educational facility comprising six teaching rooms, a state-of-the-art simulation ward, a mezzanine floor IT space and a café. 

Retaining features

We uncovered a forgotten marble altar which is now part of the student café

Preserving the building’s original features was integral to the brief for Hugh Baird College; however, the extent of the fire damage required plans to be changed as the original beam ceiling, stained-glass windows and parquet flooring could not be salvaged. Knowing the building’s significance to the community, the team at Crossfield Construction set about finding and preserving as many other original features as possible while the build was underway.  

Scott Sherwood, Crossfield’s construction director for the project, said: “The Hugh Baird team was clear about wanting to retain original features, so we sought to identify and preserve, with the client’s agreement, other interesting details throughout the build.   

“We uncovered a forgotten marble altar which is now part of the student café and a sacrarium (sink for holy water) which is now a feature in the disabled toilet. We’ve also retained some original and distinct door frames and have left some of the original brick detailing where the cross used to hang on the altar. Each of these features provides a respectful nod to the building’s history and shows that sensitive restoration and modern fabrication can be married together seamlessly.”

The original spiral staircase to the choir stalls has also been retained as an architectural feature, although it can no longer be used. Some of the more modern additions include distinct hexagonal baffle boards to manage acoustics and provide visual interest and the use of specialist modern Vanseva glazing, which replicates the colours of the old stained glass and allows natural light to flood into the building.

Overcoming challenges

The project was not without its challenges, though, with major ground stabilisation work required before the conversion and refurbishment works could even begin. Scott added: “The church was originally built in the 1960s and stood on the site of bombed-out houses. As we came to dig out the foundations for the new mezzanine level, we found a huge number of folded-in cellars, which required extensive and unexpected stabilisation works. Despite the challenges this presented to time and budget, we kept the programme on schedule and have created a place for learning that we’re incredibly proud of.”

Student engagement was also important to the college and the student body was consulted on different aspects of the building’s finishes, including the furniture selection. 

Pat Farrell, head of corporate and capital development for Hugh Baird College, said: “Student feedback has been incredibly positive, and I think that’s largely because we involved them in the decision-making where we could. We set up pilot areas for the different furniture options and asked students to give us their honest feedback about what they thought would work best. I think this has played a key role in making them feel very invested in the project and proud of their new surroundings.”

Local learning

Student engagement extended to involving students in the build process, too. With more than 90% of Crossfield Construction’s 30-strong workforce from the local area and three former students from the college, they understood the importance of creating opportunities for local learning.

Pat Farrell added: “We knew we wanted our contracting partner to provide value above and beyond the physical build and Crossfield very much shared that vision. Crossfield has hosted more than 20 short-term placements on sites across Merseyside over the last [12] months and has taken on an apprentice and a degree apprentice. It’s great to see our partners share our passion for learning and that they are willing to give something back to our students.”

Work is now underway on phase two of St Winefride’s campus, which involves building the new Life Rooms community hub.