The Rockfield Centre, Oban
Oban Communities tTrust
As a community resource, the new Centre aims to become a destination where people of all ages and background can meet.
The Rockfield Centre is born: a mix of community, performance arts, heritage and social enterprise / business centre that would address, for residents and visitors alike, many of the needs of the town under one roof. Rockfield’s unique model is to combine this with a social facility. As a community resource, the new Centre aims to become a destination where people of all ages and background can meet.
Arts & Culture is identified as one of the main themes of the project brief. The Rockfield Centre will belong to a new dynamic emerging in the cultural sector, that is the blend of production, display and commerce. It recognises that artistic activity can be stimulated by creating an environment that nurtures interaction, entertainment and commercial activity in fresh synergies. The key is to create a setting that supports and facilitates these interactions, which is flexible and adaptable to opportunities and that provides an affordable context to do so.
Our role is one of support to a remarkable group of capable and multi-skilled individuals, in making their vision a reality. Initial steps have already been made to ensure the structure is wind and watertight and rot-free. An initial phase of work has been instigated for the launch of a touring exhibition: Scotland’s 2016 Biennale exhibit, an apt theme on how ‘peripheral’ communities are re-energising through grassroots actions and local endeavours. The work carried out to achieve this will be built on to make a more permanent events space with the ongoing use demonstrating progress to the expectant community. The momentum created by this will ensure that interest is maintained during the period when design work, consents and major works contract are procured.
This project provides an exciting example of a community coming together to identify and address needs in their community while successfully saving a listed building on the Buildings at Risk register at the same time. Indeed one of the main themes of the project brief is History & Heritage and how this can be interpreted for building users.
The Category B listed former Rockfield Primary School is located in Oban town centre and very complete and little altered example of a Board School Building built in response to the 1872 Education Act. The building was made vacant and put on the market in 2007 when the school moved to a new building. Studies carried out suggested the building’s suitability for community use but there was little interest on the open market and the building fell into disrepair and appeared on the Buildings at Risk Register in 2009 / 2010.
Various campaigns by Argyll and Bute Council to drum up interest in the building failed and the building became at risk of demolition before Oban Communities Trust was formed and purchased the building in 2015 for community use.
The first phase of the 2 storey, asymmetrical school building with French-style detailing and the associated Playshelter were designed by Alexander McQueen and completed around 1875 but the school was soon extended by Alexander Shairp in 1901 to provide additional classrooms, WCs and circulation. The pattern of extending the building to meet the growing demand of the community continued in to the twentieth century with an infill addition to the rear of the building in 1953 adding a new dining room and servery and two new classrooms, to the designs of the county Architect WR Toucher. These drawings are held by the Argyll and Bute Council Archive.
A final phase of expansion to classroom area was provided in the form of two prefabricated classroom huts providing four classrooms, erected in the lower area of the playground, in 1961. Argyll and Bute Council Archive hold the drawings and product literature provided by manufacturers Vic Hallam.
There is a further mid twentieth century WC block addition to the south of the building which does not appear on any of the Archive drawings.
The fabric of the building is in fairly good condition requiring minimal repairs and work to improve energy performance and accessibility as required by current building standards. Interestingly, re-instating the buildings original ventilation system helps to achieve this.
The structured briefing workshops carried out with the Board of the Trust, identified the emerging brief as having dynamic and changing requirements that would require a new and more flexible approach to design that creates a truly sustainable and adaptable building.
From very early in the journey Oban Communities Trust has been continually consulting and listening to the commuity. Through this early listening four clear core themes were identified for what the building should strive to facilitate:
- Arts & Culture
- History & Heritage
- Enterprise & Education
- Community Wellbeing
Our briefing scope also involved the production and installation of an exhibition showcasing the proposals for the building to the wider community.
Our design focus is on the interior arrangement and how we create a building which allows the use of spaces to adapt to meet the changing needs of the community as and when required. Our strategy is to create a core of permanent services and functions into which changing uses can plug in.
At the same time, we feel strongly that the character of the school should not become lost or sanitised by the improvements to the fabric and internal arrangement. Historic fabric such as the timber panelling and glazed tiles will be revealed, coat hooks and benches retained, and design of the interpretation and selection of new furniture and fittings will all be informed by the charm of original building.