School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

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Northumberland attraction given a bright new future

Newcastle University architecture students have transformed a dilapidated roundhouse into a star attraction for village activities.

The transformation of a dilapidated Brigantium roundhouse in Northumberland into a star attraction and centre for village activities was officially unveiled at Redefest last weekend.

The development at Rochester, by students from the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, was created in partnership with Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust’s Art & Architecture programme and the local community in Rochester. They designed and constructed an open air amphitheatre and contemporary timber pavilion to be used for stargazing, musical performances, and a range of community workshops.

At the official unveiling, organisers ran a range of workshops to test the different external and internal spaces, including ukulele and singing lessons and a children's drumming session.

Professor Graham Farmer, Director of Architecture at Newcastle University, said: "This is the School’s third major design-build project in Northumberland, and the opportunity to work collaboratively with a number of organisations and the community at Rochester has proven to be an invaluable experience for all the staff and students involved.

"Projects like these provide a rich pedagogical experience for the students and they have gained numerous transferable skills, from dealing with statutory bodies, to managing time and cost, as well as the significant challenge of actually having to build one of their own designs. However, the most important aspect of this work is that students learn the value of volunteering their skills and time, motivated by an awareness that they are delivering a long-term social benefit to communities.

"This has probably been our most ambitious build so far and it has meant a huge effort from all involved. The students have demonstrated a real commitment to, and enthusiasm for project working through all weathers to ensure a successful completion."

Bringing community together

The Rochester community were an active partner in the work, identifying community requirements, approving designs and getting involved in the construction, with local craftsmen supporting the project.

Red Kellie, Vice Chair of Rochester Village Hall, said: "This project is one of true collaboration, bringing the community together with many other parties, including students from around the world, to create something very unique for the people of Rochester and visitors from further afield. We are very grateful to all who have taken part in the creation of this fabulous new roundhouse."

Redeveloping the roundhouse is part of an ongoing collaboration between the University and the Trust to create public facing architectural commissions and activities. This latest development follows the success of the Stargazing Pavilion constructed at Stonehaugh in 2014, and The Warm Room on Kielder’s community campsite in 2015.

Dark Skies

Support from the project has come from a range of organisations. The Newcastle University Students' Union (NUSU) Go Volunteer scheme funded the drystone walling training and sessions, students' expenses and use of its people carrier. Alongside students from the UK, volunteers from Malaysia, Oman, the UAE, China, Germany and Canada took part in the project.

Other support from partners included Northumberland National Park Authority funding the sedum roof, money from County Councillor John Riddle through the Member's Local Improvement Scheme for the decking and disabled access ramp, and funding from Northumberland County Council's Community Chest, which covered groundworks, fencing, windows and stargazing equipment. Funding and support also came from Arts Council England, Lord Redesdale, Redefest, and the Sir James Knott Trust.

Peter Sharpe, Kielder Art & Architecture curator, said: “Bringing everyone together in this way to create something wonderful for the community and for visitors to the area is a fantastic achievement. We are blessed with the darkest skies in Britain and structures such as this help us to enjoy and celebrate them.

“We worked with the local community to find a way to take the original structure of the roundhouse from a state of disrepair and enhance it in a unique way that the village can use. Having students from across the world, organised through NUSU's Go Volunteer scheme, made it extra special."

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