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Project study: Restoring a Grade II-listed maltings building

7 November 2019 | By Robert Dale

The new extension was stepped back from the original building to emphasise the difference between new and old (Sarah Toon Photography)

The five-year-long restoration and extension of Wells Maltings in Norfolk resulted in a first-rate community facility, says Robert Dale.

One of the joys of project management is the sheer diversity of the work, and community projects can be particularly satisfying. A recent highlight for me has been the successful regeneration and extension of the Grade II-listed Maltings in Wells-next-the-Sea. 

A striking industrial building of redbrick and traditional flint, Wells Maltings sits at the heart of the popular north Norfolk tourist destination. 

Constructed in the 19th century to malt the local barley crop, the building had subsequently seen use as a builders’ store before it was acquired by North Norfolk District Council and leased as an arts and community space to different groups – a much-loved historic asset, but one that was becoming increasingly dilapidated and timeworn.

In 2010 the newly formed Wells Maltings Trust set about developing a plan which would preserve the historic fabric of the building and ensure that it remained relevant to the local community. 

Following extensive public consultation, the brief was agreed – to protect, conserve and integrate the existing Maltings building with a modern extension to create a bigger and better facility, housing a first-class community arts centre with an improved cinema and auditorium, gallery, office spaces and cafe.

The brass-clad extension uses traditional flint on the south-east facade (Sarah Toon Photography)

In 2013, we got involved. Initially working on a pro-bono basis, we supported the trust with its Stage I Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) application and preliminary planning applications for this ambitious project.

After HLF funding of £1.84m was secured, we were appointed as quantity surveyor and, following receipt of planning permission, we were also appointed as project manager.

“The project aimed to retain, integrate or restore as much as possible of the original material in the existing building.”

Robert Dale

Inevitably we faced challenges. The protracted processes of fundraising and grant applications meant that the project was lengthy – three and a half years in the fundraising and planning stages, followed by an 18-month build. Partly through the procurement process but also other circumstances, the project saw three successive architectural practices employed to develop and realise the final scheme. 

On top of that, it had to contend with the constraints of a busy town centre location, with narrow streets and very restricted access, and incorporate flexibility for multiple uses requiring specialist fit-outs, while respecting the historic features of the building. 

The project aimed to retain, integrate or restore as much as possible of the original material in the existing building. Where that wasn’t possible, materials sympathetic to the originals were sourced, under the close eye of the council’s conservation officer.  Works included the replacement of the characteristic wind cowls, a distinctive and very visible feature which had long been absent from the Maltings in Wells.

Difference between new and old

In contrast to the conservation and restoration of the original building, the extension was entirely modern in design, enveloped in brass cladding with a characteristic flint wall on the south-east facade. The building materials were chosen for their robustness and suitability in a coastal environment and to complement the local surroundings. 

The extension was stepped back from the original building emphasising the difference between new and old, with a spectacular glass atrium creating a light-filled buffer between the two.

The new Wells Maltings was completed in 2018. This exciting and rewarding five-year-long project to provide a first-rate, year-round  cultural and community facility for the local population and the town’s many visitors has secured the long-term prospects of Wells Maltings.  It’s a source of great local pride – and is a project which I’m very proud of.

Robert Dale is a senior partner at Daniel Connal Partnership

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