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Blog: Preservation & Rejuvenation SECBE Awards 2019 finalist - Fitted Rigging House, Chatham

31 May 2019

submitted by Artelia

*** HIGHLY COMMENDED *** The Fitted Rigging House, The Historic Dockyard Chatham - submitted by Artelia

The Fitted Rigging House is one of a series of remarkable naval-industrial buildings constructed at Chatham Historic Dockyard in the late 18th century. It was one of the largest brick buildings in the world when it was built in 1793 and was used to lay rigging and as a dry store for ropes. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade 1 listed and sited in the Chatham Historic Dockyard Conservation Area. The building was previously described as “vulnerable” by Historic England and with an internal area of around 9,000sqm, which was largely empty, it was an ongoing maintenance liability to Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust’s (CHDT).

A scheme was devised to repair and repurpose the building, creating new rental spaces for commercial tenancy on the upper floors. The remaining spaces would be used to accommodate the Trust’s offices (freeing up space for the University of Kent to expand into its current location) and providing a Volunteer Centre of Excellence to greatly improve on-site facilities for the Dockyard’s army of 300 volunteers. The project also enables the Dockyard’s nationally important archive collection to be rehoused in appropriate conditions and made fully accessible to visitors.  

This project was to repair and re-purpose the building for commercial tenancy and has not only conserved this valuable asset for future generations but generated enough revenue to enable the Trust to become self-financing for the first time since it took over the Dockyard in 1984. The £8.2M project was made possible through a successful application to the HLF Enterprise Fund, receiving a £4.8M grant, £1.5m funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, additional funding from other Charitable Foundations and fundraising. The additional revenue created brings CHDT’s long-held ambition of being financially sustainable on a revenue basis to fruition.

The considered design demonstrates how a historic building can be sensitively repurposed, with minimal alteration, to support digital age business use.

Actions

  • Cost analysis using real-life costs (the team’s experience and assessment of income potential from the building) demonstrated that investment in the Fitted Rigging House would produce self-generated income for CHDT. The analysis supported successful grant applications to the Heritage Enterprise Fund, DCMS and South East Local Enterprise Partnership.
  • With a floor area of over 9000sqm, the construction budget had to be carefully distributed and involve economically efficient solutions.
  • The scheme design follows the principles of preservation through reuse - unique historic elements are revealed wherever possible, repaired where necessary and harmonious new elements added to enable contemporary use of the space.
  • A fast-track programme driven by the needs of the anchor tenants and time-limited DCMS funding required absolute risk minimisation, rigorous programme scheduling and cost certainty.

Impact

  • The Fitted Rigging House project brings circa. 5,600 sqm of unused space into commercial reuse.
  • It realises significant rental income for the Trust and brings self-generated income into balance with the revenue costs of operating the 80-acre site for the first time in its history.
  • Two anchor tenants were secured for the building prior to opening, and now only two months after the initial occupation the whole scheme is almost leased.
  • The building will support over 400 jobs locally, providing wider economic benefit to the Medway Towns.
  • By relocating the Trust’s offices to the building, space has been freed up for the University of Kent to expand in the Sail and Colour Loft, generating further income.
  • A Volunteer Centre of Excellence has been provided, recognising the importance of the Dockyard’s army of over 300 volunteers and encouraging more to join.
  • The Dockyard’s library and nationally important archive collection has been rehoused and is now fully accessible to visitors.
  • The intrinsic costs associated with the stabilisation and repair of this vast 9,000 sqm building equates to a spend of around £5m on traditional heritage construction skills by specialist local contractors.

Lessons learned

Trust and relationships are key: Artelia and the professional team had all worked previously with CHDT on the award-winning Command of the Oceans project. The ongoing relationships and the understanding of CHDT and Historic England’s exact requirements for the site resulted in the smooth flow of information between all parties, collaborative problem solving and fewer design iterations. This partnership has resulted in innovative and better design solutions for the repurposing of the building with a satisfied customer.


Highlights:

  • The Fitted Rigging House project sympathetically repurposes an at-risk Scheduled Ancient Monument, saving it for future generations.
  • The economic outputs from the commercial letting of the repurposed space brings the Trust’s self-generated income into balance with the revenue costs of operating the 80-acre site for the first time since the Dockyard closed and the Trust was formed on 1st April 1984.
  • The intrinsic costs associated with the stabilisation and repair of this 9,000 sqm building equates to a spend of around £5m on traditional heritage construction skills by specialist local contractors.

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