Evaluation of Engine Shed & Office Building

Michael Maher, Meanu Bajwa-Patel

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned Report


The new University campus was built upon what was formerly the United Kingdom’s largest Brownfield site. On taking ownership of the property, the institution came into the possession of a Grade 2 Listed derelict Engine Shed built in 1873, which had last been actively used as a Welding School in 1998. An arson attack on the building in 2000 left it in a derelict state, with the roof having collapsed and weeds taking over to the point that an additional office building was discovered under the overgrown ivy once work on the site had started.

After 150 years of industrial use, the abandonment of the building had left it open to corrosion, vandalism and graffiti, with the building being in such a state that the inspection pits, thought to have been lost, were rediscovered upon the clearing of debris. With the decision being made to repair or replace as much of the historical architecture as possible, the University worked with Purcell and MCW architects to plan a redevelopment of the site with the goal of keeping as much of its character as possible. The building was stabilised, brickwork repaired and cleaned, the surviving roof trusses were restored, with others being replaced, and a ventilator roof was also created that matched the buildings original design. With the floor being made from reclaimed brick, the tracks were kept to add to the floor’s design, along with a full restoration of the iron framed windows. More modern aspects were added to the final design, such as a free-standing office pod for the Students’ Union office workers and a glass atrium along with larges external wooden doors.

The early plan for the Engine Shed was to have it turned into a gym, with the Student Union taking up a position in part of the University’s Learning Hub. The gym would have been set up in a similar manner to the Student Union today, with a café, offices and break out areas complimenting the exercise equipment, however, it was deemed that the area was too small for a business such as a gym to operate efficiently, so instead the building was offered to the Student Union.

The Student Union, for its part, was keen to move into the building.

Separated from the main campus, the Student Union would be able to foster its own unique identity from the University, with the building’s design sitting outside the campus’s style, as well as help support the perception of its independence from the University.

This is important as although the Student Union offers many different opportunities for the students to engage with them, from setting up sports societies, supporting entrepreneurship, and organising social events, it also operates as their representative when dealing with the University itself. The Union offers a variety of support services to students, including advice on Academic Misconduct, Mitigating Circumstances, study breaks and appeals against termination, all of which are offered for free, both impartial and independent from the University. Had the Student Union remained inside the University proper, however, it may have put off students from approaching them with problems, whether because they saw the Student Union as less independent, or simply another department of the University, leading them to question whether advice given by the Union was truly impartial.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyHeritage Lottery Fund
Number of pages22
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2019


  • University of Northampton
  • Student union
  • Culture heritage
  • Historical buildings
  • Social innovation
  • Social impact
  • Northampton


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