Creating an inspiring space with historical influences

Cathedral Primary School in the heart of Bristol opened in September 2013 and quickly became the most oversubscribed school in the city. Initially housed in the Bristol Cathedral Choir School building, the 420 pupils now have their own dedicated learning space in a unique £4m relocation to the lower two floors of the Bristol Central Library.

“We’re proud of our innovative and creative curriculum which takes full advantage of the wonderful resources surrounding the school. It was incredibly important that the interior of our new school reflected our approach and provided the pupils with a stimulating environment to learn in” said Sara Yarnold, Head Teacher.

The library, designed by architect Charles Holden dates from 1906 and is a Grade I listed building. Fitting fourteen classrooms, a multi-purpose hall and offices into the space was not a simple job.

Claire Haley from Coda, the architects responsible for the interior design said: “The library is a historic building, so we had to protect it and work with it, never against it; unusual and restricted spaces needed to be opened up as well as preserved. It was an incredibly challenging and unique design project, many of the items designed were specific for the space they were to inhabit. NCS, a Bisley company, has the experience and skills to being ideas to life – from tailoring functional storage furniture to fit curious spaces to applying our energising colour palette.”

NCS manufactured and installed brightly coloured bespoke fitted furniture for every room in the new school. Coloured laminate, mounted on to ply board with a polished edge was used throughout, and gave the furniture a softness and beauty appropriate to the building and its use. This specialist material requires significant expertise to produce and must be hand-finished in the factory, making accurate on-site surveying essential.

In each of the classrooms we created colourful storage walls. Each built in, with consideration to the air circulation in the old building, to the original alcoves in the rooms. The units were designed to maximise the teaching space in the classrooms and give the teachers ultimate storage flexibility within a single unit. Each classroom was also supplied with two matching mobile cloak rooms for the children’s coats, bags and lunch boxes.

Storage in the staff room provided one of the biggest challenges. One of the items that the heritage authorities asked to school to retain and preserve were the 1930s steel framed newspaper storage bins. Using the frames as a starting point we created a laminated ply box for each bin, some were fitted with pigeon holes, some with push-catch doors and some were left as open spaces to create a multi-use, practical storage feature.

To utilise every bit of space, and to give pupils and staff a quiet space, a private reading booth was created to fit neatly beneath the stairs. With lighting incorporated, storage built in and using the same colour palette, this nook is the perfect area for individual working or peaceful contemplation.

Dave Wilkinson, Consultant at NCS, a Bisley company, said “I’ve worked on many projects where the words ‘create an inspiring environment’ have formed part of the brief, but it’s a very rare pleasure to be part of a project that actually delivers on that ambition. We worked very closely with the contractor and architect to design and manufacture workable, great looking and long-lasting products that fitted seamlessly into the environment.”