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Landscape a key focus for new almhouses regeneration

Southwark Charities has unveiled emerging plans for rebuilding its almshouses. The aim is to deliver a highly sustainable, socially responsible mixed used scheme at the site on Nicholson Street in Blackfriars.

The sensitive design of the proposed building will release one-third of the site to garden and public realm for the enjoyment of the residents and local community alike.

Southwark Charities’ almshouses provide accommodation for older people of limited means who have been resident in the borough for at least five years, enabling them to live safely and independently for as long as possible, for a modest maintenance charge.

The existing almshouses were built in 1973 and are in need of updating. The primary purpose of this proposed new development is to build 60 new almshouses, more than double the existing number, on the Blackfriars site.

In addition, there will be around 220,000 sq ft of high-quality office space, 10% of which will be affordable workspace available to other Southwark-based charities and local initiatives. This will not only support jobs in the area but also generate income and capital to pay for the almshouses.

Richly planted gardens and public footpaths will be a key feature on the ground floor, including a new east-west pedestrian link in the form of ‘Edwards’ Walk’, a nod to the founding father of Southwark Charities. At the time of original purchase, the site was used as tenter grounds and market gardens, and this heritage of industry and production will be expressed in the landscape forms and the integration of food crops in amenity planting.

Although not reflected on historical maps, the land purchased by the charity’s trustees was then known as the ‘Physick Gardens’, where herbs were grown for medicinal use. After the first almshouses were built, the remaining undeveloped land was leased for use as kitchen gardens.

This landscape heritage will be reflected in the roof terraces, where residents will be able to grow their own fruits and vegetables, while office workers will have breakout spaces within sensory gardens for mental health and wellbeing.

Chris Wilson, clerk to the Trustees of Southwark Charities, says: “The charity has built almshouses in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and now we need to rebuild them for the 21st century. Significant investment would be required to bring the existing units up to contemporary standards – that’s why we need to replace them rather than remodel them. The opportunity exists to double the provision by building 60 modern, purpose-built almshouses to meet changing regulations, including a focus on sustainability, mobility access and community living. A great deal of thought is also being given to the landscaping to maximise the ground plane, encourage biodiversity and create a vibrant streetscape. Southwark Charities’ goal is to deliver a scheme that will become a standard-bearer for almshouses.”

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