London, GB


Planning approval for Highgate Newtown Community Centre

By Claire Curtice
May 5, '17 9:04 AM EST
Model photos © Jakob Spriestersbach
Model photos © Jakob Spriestersbach

RCKa has received planning approval for its redevelopment of Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC) and Fresh Youth Academy (FYA) in north London, a 3,000sqm site within the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area.

Commissioned by the London Borough of Camden as part of their Community Investment Programme, the scheme includes 31 residential units for sale (total of 2,700 sq m) that will fund new and improved community facilities (2,200 sq m) and cover all redevelopment costs, including a new public courtyard.

 Following two years of extensive stakeholder and local community consultation, the announcement secures the future of this valuable community resource at a time of public funding cuts.

The existing site is a cul-de-sac of 1950s ex-Territorial Army buildings that terminate Bertram Street, a residential area in Highgate. HNCC inhabits a large multipurpose hall, an adjoining small hall, a 3-storey community centre building with two private flats on the top floor and a vacant caretaker's cottage, whilst FYA who also use the main hall, have their own dedicated base along with a small Victorian Gospel Mission Hall.

The design transforms the site from a cul-de-sac to a completely permeable piece of the city, opening up facilities to the wider community by introducing a new direct public pedestrian route to Croftdown Road on the south of the site. A courtyard forms the heart of the new development, drawing visitors in and providing an active and flexible outdoor amenity space for use by all, with residential and public building entrances opening directly onto this shared communal space.

The existing mix of single and 2-3 storey 1950s buildings on the site will be demolished and replaced with taller buildings, which have been carefully designed to align with and complement the surrounding terraces and mansion blocks. The Mission Hall building on Winscombe Street will be retained and converted into two houses.

The new development will achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating, with a timber hall structure and high-levels of natural ventilation and low-energy technologies. 

It will comprise 4 distinct blocks and a low-level link building in an arrangement that opens up long-views across the site and generous views of the sky beyond, giving a sense of spaciousness that feels safe and welcoming.

All elevations are brick. RCKa arrived at a design narrative to introduce variety across the site, whilst ensuring it is read as a single development. Envisioning it as a tree trunk all the outer edges of the site have a rough textured mottled grey brickwork, akin to the bark of the tree trunk; interior elevations and recessed details are in rich red patterned brickwork to illustrate that they are carved from the tree. This narrative is applied rigorously across the site and elevations are distinguished by their ‘cut’ and ‘uncut’ treatment, creating a strong sense of place around the courtyard.

A more informal and human-scaled character is introduced by breaking the simple grid of elevations with arched windows, window boxes and recessed loggia, which draw on the rich architectural vocabulary of the neighbourhood, along with the use of a soft gold metallic finish to window linings and balustrades.

Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC) and Fresh Youth Academy (FYA) each have an independent entrance and presence on the new courtyard, but are connected below and above ground with shared access to the lower ground floor hall and first floor roof garden terrace. The residential aspect of the development has also been designed with entrances onto the courtyard to make it a vibrant place of arrival and social interaction. The living spaces of the lower duplexes are accommodated at ground level to further activate this space, and private terraces on the threshold of the public realm encourage further interaction between the public, HNCC/FYA users and residents. 


The entrance of HNCC is a spacious double-height volume flooded with natural light from a glazed roof above. It is a flexible space which brings visitors into the heart of the building, offering views of activity in the café, main hall and Fresh Youth Academy beyond so users immediately feel comfortable and connected with all that is going on. The upper floors feature a range of facilities including a ceramics studio, art room, woodwork studio, roof garden, community forum space, and offices for physiotherapy and psychology, which are arranged around an atrium that brings natural light into the heart of the building. All community facilities have been designed to support as wide a range of use as possible, whilst also providing a vibrant and beautiful series of interconnected flexible spaces.

At the committee meeting held on Thursday 27th April 2017, Councillor Oliver Lewis and Councillor Sally Grimson, said:

We believe this is a very good and well-designed scheme to provide a fit-for-purpose community centre. The new building will enable the centre to continue to provide free services for our community and meet the needs of the deprived residents of Highgate Newtown well into the future.”

James Robin, Chair of The Trustees of Highgate Newtown Community Centre, said:

The Trustees strongly support the development. In a time when funding for Third Sector projects is under significant pressure, we welcome the Council’s proposal to invest significantly in our community provision. We have been involved from the beginning in the design of the spaces and believe it will create a thriving Community Centre able to continue to provide free and subsidised services.”

Dieter Kleiner, Director, RCKa, said:

“We’re thrilled to have helped Camden, HNCC and local people secure planning approval for such an important and transformative proposal to provide community services on this site for many years to come. RCKa is committed to realising a vibrant new piece of London that local people can be proud of.”