Race against time to restore Preston's Victorian orphanage before it crumbles

Experts are working to save and restore Victorian orphanage in the heart of Preston in a race against time before it crumbles.

By Megan Titley
Monday, 9th September 2019, 9:42 pm
Updated Monday, 9th September 2019, 10:42 pm
St Joseph's Orphanage in Preston in a state of ruin before the historic building is restored
St Joseph's Orphanage in Preston in a state of ruin before the historic building is restored

Specialists in historic buildings have announced plans to ‘breathe new life’ into St Joseph’s Orphanage, in the heart of Preston.

For more than a decade the buildings hidden at the end of Theatre Street have been sitting empty, abandoned and decaying, targeted by vandals and urban explorers.

Now Czero Developments has revealed designs of how it will transform the former orphanage into ‘unique apartments’, if planning permission is approved.

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St Joseph's Orphanage in Preston in a state of ruin before the historic building gets restored

Designs show that the small but highly-detailed Chapel, along with the landmark tower and spire, would be restored and converted into apartments but the orphanage’s ward block would face demolition.

Along with Buttress Architects, Czero says that by taking some of the most damaged and structurally unsafe elements of the existing complex away, “new life can be breathed into the remaining and most salvageable buildings”.

Lead architect Stephen Anderson, director at Buttress, said: “We wanted to develop a scheme that is forward looking while making reference to and celebrating the character of the site.

“As a result, we have created a site layout that puts the chapel and tower at the heart of the development.

An artist's impression of the plans for the former orphanage

“New openings and public spaces have also been created that will frame and, for the first time in over a century, provide views of these important heritage assets.

“All new build and refurbished elements have been designed with a material palette that is in keeping with the existing buildings and surrounding context, while also serving to define the site as a new, contemporary neighbourhood.

“The scheme will not only transform the site into an attractive place to live but will make a positive contribution to the wider city.”

The centrepiece of the development will be St Joseph’s Square, where the restored chapel and tower will be framed by 10 townhouses, in a 21st century interpretation of Preston’s Georgian squares.

Development proposals create a series of public and private spaces with gardens and new buildings reflecting the surrounding urban grain.

A view of the Chapel from Mount Street will also be opened up for the first time since the hospital wing was built in 1933.

And three further apartment buildings will complete the scheme.

On the southern edge of the site there will be a block of 22 apartments for the over 55s, with “generous dimensions” and a private garden.

On Mount Street two new blocks will frame public gardens, which will also provide a new pedestrian route linking Theatre Street through to Mount Street and then on to Winckley Square.

By combining family housing, retirement apartments, penthouses, and apartments for rent, Czero says it is hoping to create a “vibrant and mixed community”.

Czero and Buttress Architects, which both specialise in the development of historic buildings, have previously worked together to save the Grade II* listed Unitarian Chapel in Manchester, converting it into student accommodation.

But director of Czero Simon Linford says that St Joseph’s Orphanage site presents greater challenges.

“The difficulty here is the condition of the buildings and the density of the site,” he said.

“We have had to go back to square one and work out what can be saved that is still meaningful.

“At the same time, we do not want to over develop the site with tall buildings and lots of apartments.

“The architects have designed to a scale that respects the historic building, opening up new views of this much loved piece of Preston’s heritage.”

Bosses at Czero want to be able to erect scaffolding around the chapel to protect it through the winter. If all goes to schedule developers could be granted planning consent early next year and be on site not long afterwards.