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How the Engine Shed went the extra mile at the University of Northampton

A university lauded for its future-focused campus has won a coveted heritage award for keeping one foot firmly in the past.

The University of Northampton opened the £330m Waterside campus in 2018, with its new home forgoing traditional lecture theatres for interactive spaces that are geared up for a blend of physical and online teaching and learning.

The institution’s trophy cabinet has been bulging with various architectural awards for the new buildings at Waterside, but one on site that dates back more than a century and a quarter has also caught judges’ eyes.

Home to the Students’ Union, the Engine Shed is a Grade-II listed former railway building that was brought back from dereliction when it was restored by the University for the Waterside project.

The careful restoration has landed the building with its biggest award to date, after it was named the overall winner of the National Railway Heritage Awards 2020.

Built by Midland Railway, the building dates back to 1873 and was originally used for the stabling and maintenance of locomotives operating on the line to Bedford. Taken out of use in 1921, the shed was used for various railway purposes up to 1998, when it was finally shut. Badly damaged by arson in 2000, the shed fell into disrepair until the University breathed new life into it, and an associated office building that was converted into a post room.

National Railway Heritage Awards judges said: “This is the project that has everything, with a brilliant restoration of both buildings, giving them both long-term sustainable uses, putting them in a really good setting and going the extra mile for heritage, again and again.”

University Project Manager, Simon Badcock, who oversaw the restoration, said: “The Engine Shed and nearby office were on the verge of collapse when the University started on the journey to our new Waterside campus.

“We were delighted that, as a part of this larger project, we could save this important historic local building and bring it back into use for the benefit of our students and the wider community.

“The standard of the restoration carried out is second to none and we are very proud to receive recognition for the efforts of the team involved in this project from the National Railway Heritage Awards.”

The restoration of the Engine Shed was jointly funded by the University and a £1.3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Image by Paul Michael Hughes Photography

In 2018, the Engine Shed’s former incarnation was brought back to life in a 3D environment by Games Arts students Fiona Galloway and Ryan Gaveglia.

This is the third major award the Engine Shed has received since opening, after securing the Creative Re-use Award from the Association for Industrial Archaeology, and the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Award for Higher & Further Education.

The wider Waterside campus has also won, or been shortlisted, for a string of awards, including:

  • Winning the Royal Society of Chartered Surveyors Design through Innovation Award
  • Winning Construction Project of the Year Award at the East Midlands Property Awards
  • Winning University Impact Initiative of the Year Award from the Association of University Directors of Estates
  • Being Highly commended in both the Inspiring Learning Spaces and Innovation in Delivering Value categories at the Education Estates Awards
  • The University named Client of the Year at the Estates Education Awards
  • A shortlisting for the Midlands Business Award for Corporate Commitment to the Community
  • Becket’s Bridge, which links the campus to the town, was shortlisted for an Architects’ Journal Architecture Award
  • A commendation in the 2020 Civic Trust Awards.

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