THE ALBION, SNEINTON ROAD
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The Albion has provided direct access emergency accommodation for homeless people since 1987. While the service had always been regarded as high quality the accommodation was below standard in the provision of basic care for residents. Although various schemes of repair and alteration had been undertaken in recent years, due to lack of funds, none fully addressed the requirement to bring the building into full use and to provide the quality of accommodation required.
The result was a comprehensive design solution for the full conversion of the building. However to realise the scheme required the loss of an element of the surviving historic fabric and the partitioning of the internal spaces of the upper part of the building.
The Albion was built in 1856 as a United Reform Church in a neo-Classical style. It is a building of monumental proportions with ashlar Ionic pilasters defining five bays along its brick red elevations and ashlar dressings surround the curved timber sash windows to the upper floors. An ashlar pediment crowns the front of the building with its base ‘broken’ by a feature window of stained glass.
[Further information about the building of the Albion Chapel can be found on this site in a page written by Stephen Best.]
In its original setting the church was a focal building towering above the rows of back-to-back dwellings that surrounded it on three sides. In the modern day, the subsequent redevelopment of the surrounding area with high rise housing development to the west and low rise development of insignificant architectural quality on adjacent plots has undermined its historic context.
Notwithstanding this, the former church contributes significantly to the townscape of the locality and remains a landmark building of significant architectural quality. The building was first identified as ‘a building of Local Significance’ by Nottingham City Council and was later to be formally listed as a building of National Architectural or Historic Importance (Grade II).
The interior and exterior of the building have been altered on a number of occasions during its life. Initially in 1904, a rear extension was added and the end wall of the church ‘knocked through’ at first floor level to create a chancel in the first floor of the extension, until the church closed in the 1970s, this housed the church organ.
In the 1930s a concrete floor was inserted at balcony level creating a horizontal division between the ground and first floors. As part of the same scheme of alteration a substantial concrete staircase was also inserted, rising from the entrance to the first floor. This staircase effectively ‘replaced’ (in terms of function) the original narrow staircases either side of the entrance hall that formerly allowed access to the balcony area. The new concrete staircase bisected the curve of the gallery seating resulting at that time in the removal of the first three rows of seating platforms. It is likely that the cast iron columns at ground floor level were encased in concrete at this time.
The fact that the primary use of the building was in decline at this time is evident from this alteration, which effectively partitioned the ground floor of the building for ‘other’ uses. Though the building continued in religious use this was for a smaller chapel occupying the upper floor only.
In 1991 permission was granted for its change of use to a night shelter for homeless people, and the ground floor of the building was partitioned to facilitate dormitory accommodation. A single storey extension was added to the rear of the 1904 extension in 1997 to form a larger dining/communal area and, on the first floor, the former chancel was partitioned from the main room and converted for storage space and office. In 1998 permission was granted to reorganise the ground floor accommodation and remove the remaining curved balcony seating at the north end of the first floor together with the balustrades to the staircases to create a more usable space.
The surviving historic fabric of the building’s interior was mostly confined to two aisles defined by five round arches on slender cast iron columns and original stairs that accessed the balcony from the entrance. Each of the columns rises from the ground floor to the aisle ceiling terminating with decorated capital. These load bearing Victorian columns, designed to support a wooden gallery, were also supporting the weight of the considerably over-specified concrete floor.
The main issue with respect to the exterior was its increasing state of disrepair and the subsequent decay of the historic fabric. There was also concern about the quality of the extensions, particularly their foundations. The roof was leaking in a number of places with damage to interior plasterwork, resulting in a proportion of the upper floor being out of use for fear of falling plaster or masonry.
Due regard for the building’s listed status was a paramount consideration throughout the design process. However, the interior of the building as a former church presented its own problems with respect to retaining the ‘open spaces’ that are characteristic of this building type.
The design solution sought to minimise the long-term impact on the fabric of the building by employing a freestanding internal timber frame. However, this required the removal of the first floor of the building and with it what remained of the seating platforms and balcony structure.
This timber frame system forms the structure upon which timber panels (manufactured off site) were positioned to partition the space. All the materials required for the building works were manhandled through the original entrance doors, and had to be kept to a manageable weight and size. The new floors are stepped back from the arched sash windows to main elevations. This ensured minimum alteration to the windows themselves and minimum impact visually from outside the building. Unfortunately the upper windows were required to be painted out white as part of the planning approval, not black, as was the original intention. Should requirements change in the future, the frame can be dismantled without damage to the internal walls or surviving features.
Repair and Restoration
The full repair of the building was integral to the scheme, cleaning and repointing of the brickwork was carried out together with repairs to the ashlar stonework. The roof was overhauled with the wholesale replacement of lead flashings and repairs to parapet walls as well as a natural slate roof to replace the previous concrete tiles. The weight of these tiles had caused serious deformation of the roof structure making their removal a priority.
Restoration of the surviving significant historical features was also incorporated into the overall design solution and included: restoration of the original doors, windows, columns and arches; reinstating the original front door and staircase to first floor. The overall restoration also included the removal of unsympathetic and poor quality alterations. The forecourt has been landscaped to provide disabled access into the ground floor flats, requiring new stone steps together with with curving boundary walls topped with new railings.
The Albion now provides 24 single person flats for people making the move from direct access accommodation, such as the London Road hostel, to supported living. Communal facilities take the form of a laundry and garden, as well as a lounge with 24 hour staffing. Five of the new flats are short-stay to help free up space in Frameworks direct access accommodation, the others are for longer-term residents.
Each of the long-stay flats provides an open plan kitchen/living space, bathroom and bedroom. All of the flats benefit from the large original windows that give lots of light and views across the city. Most also have some part of the columns that support the roof, with the top floor flats having the arches and decorative capitals.
The scheme has resulted in a long-term (25 year) maintenance commitment and continued use through financial support from the Housing Corporation. This will ensure the preservation of the Albion as a listed building and a key historic landmark of significant townscape quality. It is likely that if this had not succeeded, Framework would have had no option but to seek alternative premises/sites and put the Albion for sale on the open market.
Mike Harrison, Allan Joyce Architects