A former industrial building steeped in history has added an extra layer of meaning to the term ‘extra care’, after a sympathetic regeneration project gave the old building a new life and modern purpose, as Knowsley Housing Trust’s Katie Lenden explains
AFTER an £11 million transformation, a Grade II-listed former watch factory in Prescot, Liverpool, has been faithfully renovated into a contemporary extra care scheme.
The modern design retains a lot of the building’s history and pays homage to its past life, with original features peppered throughout the scheme. The result is an innovative project that has proved so popular: there is a waiting list of 18 months to join and all apartments and bungalows are now occupied.
Building on history
The Watchfactory was originally the Lancashire Watch Company and was built in 1889, on Albany Road, and was the largest factory of its kind in the UK.
Prescot was at the time the European centre for clocks, watch parts and tools, and it produced around a million pocket watches in its lifetime. Sadly, the factory faced stiff competition from American and Swiss imports and went out of business in 1910.
It then became a makeshift barracks in 1915, accommodating hundreds of soldiers from Prescot and the surrounding area. It then fell into disrepair and remained empty for decades before Knowsley Housing Trust, part of First Ark Group, started work on site in February 2015.
The sympathetic design blends the old with the new.
We worked with the original factory and designed two new wings to extend the scheme. The original features, which included beams, columns, brick work and doors, were replicated in the new extensions and we used original materials and sourced restored bricks, which were approved by the heritage planning officer.
We partnered with Prescot Museum to display a collection of memorabilia from the original factory, so residents, visitors and staff are aware of the history of the site.
The gentrified building now houses over 70 residents, mostly over the age of 55. There are 54 apartments, comprising of one- and two-bedroom apartments, and 16 custom-built bungalows, available for affordable rent and shared ownership sale. All rooms are spread over three floors and lifts serve the upper floors.
This state-of-the-art extra care facility offers a holistic approach, which includes 24-hour emergency assistance, an on-site care team, a communal lounge area, an on-site bistro serving a healthy and nutritious menu. There’s also a hair salon and a range of group activities such as exercise classes, outings and coffee mornings.
Joyce Oliver, one of the first residents to move into The Watchfactory, said: “I love living here, it’s better than the Hilton! The building is alive with history and the accommodation is so comfortable and modern.
“I spotted the development taking shape and knew I wanted to move into a scheme with character. My home was getting too much for me and I felt a bit isolated, I fancied moving somewhere more sociable. Today for example, we’ve got Christmas charity banjo players coming in to entertain us. Everything is on-site here – there’s a hairdresser, a bistro, a hobby room and a lovely communal garden.
“The scheme is integrated into Prescot and there are a number of great local shops on your door step. It’s very well connected, and I can hop on a bus to anywhere in the North West.”
The Watchfactory is an aspirational living complex. Its state-of-the-art design will raise the perception of the quality of homes in Prescot and support place making by putting the community at the heart of the neighbourhood.
The project is part of wider regeneration in Prescot and complements the town centre heritage initiative. Knowsley Council is reviving the high street and is a major partner in supporting a new playhouse, Shakespeare North, the International College, focusing upon Shakespearean performance practice and the Shakespeare North Rail Interchange Prescot scheme, which will make Prescot more connected for residents. Knowsley has a rich Elizabethan heritage.
The design of The Watchfactory responds to and reinforces the industrial legacy of the site. Residents have commented that they wanted to live in a scheme with character and history. The blend of modern architecture with Victorian features has created a new approach to the architecture of extra care schemes.
Katie Lenden is a project manager for newbuild development and regeneration at Knowsley Housing Trust