Standing next to a famous Victorian theatre in Colchester where Dickens regularly gave readings, the Old Police Station is a handsome neo-renaissance building on land once enclosed by a Roman wall, which still attempts to surround the town. This gracious building wraps around a sunny courtyard and makes an ideal setting for a new creative cluster for the town. The project is the first completed component of Ash Sakula’s competition-winning masterplan for the St Botolph’s Cultural Quarter.
The project has created a reason for creative and entrepreneurial people, particularly graduates of the University of East Anglia and Colchester Institute of the Arts, to stay in the town by providing the affordable, flexible workspace they need to establish new practices and start-ups. The Old Police Station is such a good match for this demand that all its forty studios were pre-let prior to completion and occupancy has been close to 100% from the outset. To keep overheads low, the site’s studios, meeting rooms, café, events space and courtyard were designed to be easily managed by a minimal core team of staff.
The Old Police Station ideally matches local demand for characterful, affordable, flexible working space. It provides hot-desking facilities as well as forty studios of different sizes. The building nurtures connectivity and interaction, kindling the cross-fertilisation and exchange that is crucial to co-working success. The ground floor, which opens out onto a landscaped courtyard, is a convivial, free-flowing reception area that functions flexibly as event space, bar and cafe. Placed throughout the building, smaller-scale shared facilities introduce a feeling of friendly informality. Tenants particularly enjoy the wall-mounted water boilers and cosy seating niches, which entice them out of their studios for hot drinks and conversation. Doors and screen walls are fully glazed with glass, making this a light, legible, open and communicative environment, with studios that avoid the feeling of cubicles - even those that occupy the old police cells.
37 Queen Street, Colchester, was constructed in the mid-eighteenth century as a soldiers’ home. It became a police station in 1940 with the addition of upper storeys and a cell block wing. Grade II-listed in 1968, it was most recently in use as a pub. In transforming the building into a creative hub, we retained memories of all these uses, while making it accessible to all users by successfully managing complex multiple changes in floor level in a building that grew incrementally.