The Grange Pavillion team tell us the placemaking story behind their development in Grangetown, Cardiff
Location: Grange Pavilion, Grange Gardens, Grangetown, Cardiff
Local Authority: Cardiff Council
Client: Grange Pavilion CIO
Design team: Dan Benham Architect and IBI Group, with the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University; The Urbanists; Holloway Partnership; Mann Williams; Mott Macdonald; BECT Construction
Date of completion: October 2020
Contract value: £1.87 million
Site area: 600m2 building
Funding source: National Lottery, Welsh Government, Enabling Natural Resources Wales, Moondance Foundation, Garfield Weston, HEFCW, Clothworkers Foundation, Cardiff Bay Rotary Club, and individual donations.
People and Community
The Grange Pavilion is a community-led and community-owned facility, achieved through a 99-year Community Asset Transfer and redevelopment of a formerly vacant Bowls Pavilion and green. The project began with a group of residents identifying the need to improve a deteriorating facility in a popular neighbourhood park.
Forming as the Grange Pavilion project, the residents partnered with Cardiff University’s Community Gateway in 2012 to launch Ideas Picnics, event days and a three-year residency with a regular program of activities in the vacant building to increase awareness and build capacity by developing relationships with local residents and existing community organisations and businesses. The design team, led by Dan Benham Architects and IBI Group, developed a design brief through design workshops exploring the ideas generated by the residency.
Opening in October 2020 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Grange Pavilion is currently under asset guardianship by Cardiff University, giving the newly constituted Grange Pavilion CIO time to develop the capacity to take on the 99-year lease. Composed of 60% residents and partner institutions, Cardiff University, Cardiff and Vale College, Taff Housing, RSPB Cymru, and Cardiff Bay Rotary Club, the Grange Pavilion CIO now manage a program of activities aimed at making Grange Pavilion welcoming and accessible to Grangetown’s multiple communities. Having achieved the ambition of quality which underpinned the development of the Grange Pavilion, ongoing partnership developments view the Grange Pavilion as evidencing the ability of community-led collaborations to improve the built environment on a neighbourhood-wide scale.
Understanding the place
Close collaboration between the Grange Pavilion CIO, Cardiff University’s Community Gateway, the Welsh School of Architecture, Dan Benham and IBI Group supported several years of research to deeply understand the context well before any design proposals began. Live teaching studios co-led by residents asked students to document and analyse historical and contemporary archives, and ran Ideas Picnics, vision days, and storytelling days to explore Grangetown’s physical and cultural settings. All research worked with appreciative inquiry and asset-based principles, focusing on celebrating and building upon existing strengths, skills and possibilities instead of identifying problems to be solved.
The design was informed by the residency in the vacant building, opening up the building and grounds for a multitude of different activities to be offered and tested before finalising any design decisions. Key design elements – the importance of access to a sheltered garden space, an outdoor classroom and events space, a café serving the building and park, a variety of independent and flexible bookable spaces a materials palette respectful of a context of Victorian terraced housing and a screen design using detailing from historical park bandstand – were the direct result of several years of open days and design workshop days with multiple community groups.
As a facility run by community members, a core aim was that of achieving long term civic quality, prioritising good quality and low maintenance materials and equipment.
(photo by Kyle Pearce)
The Grange Pavilion sits in Grange Gardens, close to the Taff Trail improvements put in place by Cardiff Council’s Greener Grangetown and on bus routes and is within a short walking distance to Grangetown train station and Cardiff Central. The next round of fundraising is targeting bike stands in Grange Gardens Park and plans are in place to request signage advertising Grange Pavilion as a stop-off point on the Taff Trail. The core benefit of the project is the provision of a café, accessible toilets and a water-filling point for a popular neighbourhood park.
Mix of uses
The Grange Pavilion CIO’s core aim is to create a welcoming, accessible, non-institutional space which demonstrates a sense of long-term civic quality. The physical layout provides three multifunctional indoor spaces, a co-working office, an outdoor classroom and outdoor events space. The pre-development residency and workshop events emphasised the need for a series of flexible, robust, bright, generous and independently operable yet connected spaces with direct access to the gardens, to accommodate a wide range of community activities. Each space is accessed through a community-led café and adjacent public accessible toilets serving the Grange Pavilion and Grange Gardens, encouraging crossover between the Grange Pavilion and park users.
A core factor in the business case to redevelop the Grange Pavilion was the lack of physical and psychological accessibility of the prior facility: several steps into the space meant the building was not disabled accessible, and shutters created an unwelcoming and hostile frontage to the park. The redevelopment prioritises visual and physical accessibility through the building and landscape, with ramps and raised beds ensuring all landscaped elements are accessible, and barrier-free access to all indoor facilities. SUDS rainwater gardens line the perimeter of the gardens, diverting all roof drainage into three rainwater ponds surrounded by pollinator planting. The outdoor classroom and events space have been used by school groups, community gardening groups, the Grangetown World Street market, taster sports sessions including football, cricket, rugby, cycling and baseball. Café seating extends into the gardens and into the park, with a café hatch opposite an existing playground and bandstand.
The project began with a resident speaking to a local councillor about how to do something about a deteriorating local facility. The conversation, which focused on the need to do something of quality, began the process of a Community Asset Transfer, supported by Cardiff Council’s Stepping Up program, and a Cardiff Council Neighbourhood Partnerships grant provided the first external grant to retain an architect for an early feasibility study. Local authority council members supported the project and the asset transfer throughout and sit on the Grange Pavilion CIO to maintain an ongoing relationship. Cardiff University’s Community Gateway brought a long-term institutional commitment to the project from the earliest stages, joined by Cardiff and Vale College, Taff Housing, RSPB Cymru, and Cardiff Bay Rotary Club, each bringing increased access to diverse areas of resources and expertise to support the project as it progressed through each stage.
A successful application to a National Lottery Community Asset Transfer 2 grant brought two-stage support to develop a planning application and business case, and capital and 5-year revenue funding to support the redevelopment and launch. Lottery funding included mentorship from The Development Trusts Association Wales (DTA Wales), and networking site visits to other community asset transfer projects throughout Wales, which were invaluable in identifying key challenges and opportunities to address in the design brief and business case.
The design team were initially invited, along with other architectural practices, to join the project through funded short live teaching briefs, giving the design teams the opportunity to embed into the project and run pre-design activities to get to know the residents’ group, the wider community, and the site. Selected on the basis of evidencing an approach to community co-production, the design team continued design workshops within the residency at several key design stages from concept through detailed design. Annual live teaching briefs with the Welsh School of Architecture brought students in to further investigate design decisions, including detailing of external screens, planning for daily activities, and ongoing post-occupancy evaluation.
What was the greatest challenge in the delivery of the project and how was it overcome?
The length of time and scale of the demand on all involved – some of the grant applications requiring several months to complete the required paperwork – and the balance in maintaining co-production amongst a continuously evolving and client group with an evolving vision. Grant deadlines at times led to short-term rather than long-term decision making in order to meet capital spending deadlines, and the pressures of institutional frameworks and short-term budgetary pressures had to be balanced against the long-term interests of achieving the aim of civic quality. A construction site lockdown and opening the building during Covid-19 lockdowns brought its own unique pressures, reducing end of construction budgets for interiors, but allowing for a bare-bones opening and an ongoing funding drive to collaboratively bring the interior to life.
What is the most successful aspect of the development?
A community-envisioned, community-led facility, with generous, bright, inviting and flexible interior and exterior spaces are now being brought to life by a huge variety of local and national individuals and organisations, working together to lead activities for diverse ages, faiths, genders and physical and mental health conditions. As a recent nowinaminutemedia post observed: ‘The landmark £2m expansion of the centre has already proven to be a remarkably inviting and safe place to grow, exhibit, meet, film and create.’
What didn’t work as well as expected or has had to change or evolve?
A covid-19 lockdown stripped out an interiors budget, particularly impacting on interior and exterior furnishings and fixtures. While the decision to maintain the quality of the permanent materials palette was the right one, it has meant a bare-bones launch with a long term aim of adding more of the richer, more colourful, softer interior elements, and completing more of the landscaped elements including raised beds, seating and cycle racks. Balancing long term civic quality against short term budget shortfalls always leads to some degree of value engineering, but the long-term commitment from all involved enabled decision making to focus on long term value with the confidence that the project doesn’t end when the doors open.