Background and business case
Railway Housing Association took a site close to the historic 1825 Darlington to Stockton Railway (and running parallel to the east coast main line) and provided 73 much-needed homes in Darlington, consisting of two and three-bedroom houses, two-bedroom bungalows and one-bedroom apartments, meeting the needs of a cross section of the community, namely young people, families and older people. The development included the sympathetic conversion of an 1844 listed railway engine shed.
The central focal point of the whole scheme was the 1844 engine shed. Despite being a Listed Building, it had become a magnet for vandals, covered in graffiti and generally considered an eyesore by the local community. The scheme could not go ahead without including the engine shed so we had to come up with a design, working alongside the planning authority and English Heritage, that would sympathetically restore the building and bring it back into use as housing, whilst also ensuring that the other new homes we were building complemented the engine shed. In response to comments made by the Friends of the 1825 Darlington & Stockton Railway during the planning process we also revised the design so that the homes were not built on the actual route of the original railway, which was the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives and has been earmarked to possibly become a World Heritage Site.
The final scheme saw the engine shed being transformed into seven mews-type homes using materials that give it, and the other homes, an industrial feel in keeping with its location.
Prior to development, this site had become an overgrown ‘jungle’. A public footpath ran through it but was poorly lit and the area had become a magnet for anti-social behaviour, with the engine shed suffering at the hands of vandals.
Our first task was to clear the site, then we set about effectively creating a new community in this part of Darlington. From the outset, we wanted to provide affordable homes which met a range of needs, so they would be suitable for families or older people seeking to downsize into more easy to manage bungalows.
Given the history and location of the site, we were keen to have an industrial feel to the scheme in keeping with its historic past, whilst at the same time providing modern, attractive, energy efficient homes.
We took our inspiration from the engine shed, which was built in 1844 to house railway engines operated by the Great North of England Railway. In 2008, despite becoming a target for vandals over the years, it was granted Grade II listed status, with English Heritage saying: “it is a rare surviving example of a first generation railway engine shed and it is highly significant for the evolution of early railway building design”.
Our sympathetic redevelopment of the engine shed means it has retained the vast majority of its external structure, with only the ‘pavilion’ roof being replaced; however the new roof is an exact replica of what it would have looked like back in 1844.
The new windows installed in the engine shed, along with the windows of the other home are black in colour, to reflect the industrial background of the site. This is offset by hard and soft landscaping to create a modern, high quality, durable environment.
The development sits across the road from Darlington College, a further education facility offering a range of courses for local people. During the construction of the homes, young people studying NVQs, including brick-layers, plumbers, joiners and electricians, undertook week-long work experience placements to give them hands-on training. The students were able to bring what they learned on site back into the classroom, so this experience will stand them in good stead as they continue their education and training, or move into full-time employment.
The scheme has brought real added value to the local community, from enhancing the surrounding area through to creating opportunities for young people to learn.