E15 Acting School & Theatre Southend
University of Essex
Contract value: £3.5M
Although in its heyday at the end of the 19th century, Clifftown United Reformed Church attracted a congregation of more than 800 people, by the end of the last century the congregation had dwindled and it was closed for worship. Meanwhile, the original 1865 building had been much extended, doubling the size of the church and providing extensive ancillary accommodation, including a chapel, vestries, meeting rooms, a large hall, lecture theatre and bookshop. When the University of Essex bought the site for £1.1m in 2007, damage caused by leaking valley gutters was becoming a significant threat to the fabric of the Grade II Listed church. The vision of the University was to expand their Southend campus by developing the redundant church buildings as ‘Clifftown Studios’ for the E15 Acting School, with the brief to provide a specialised teaching complex with facilities for theatre courses, and a flexible 200 seat auditorium. The completed project cost £5M, including specialist theatre equipment and fees. Only 17 months elapsed between the appointment of the architects and students and staff moving into the completed building. The project has been designed to achieve a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ environmental performance.
The proposal was welcomed by the local authority and supported by the conservation officer, David Andrews, who commented:
“The University and their architects should take pride in this example of how conservation can adapt to modern circumstances and create a building which preserves its historic identity, yet is equipped to take a new role in the life of the community.”
Photography: Matt Humphrey (2, 3, 4, 6 & 7)