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the socially regenerative power of retrofit

Successful retrofit breathes new life into old buildings. But it also brings opportunities to breathe new life into the economic and social life of the communities that surround them.

Bringing a disused building back into daily use can boost the local pride and identity of existing communities, and drive positive social change.

Over 20 years ago, we cut our teeth on socially regenerative retrofit with schemes such as Matchworks, Fort Dunlop and Soapworks. These locally iconic buildings had once been the centre of economic activity in their respective neighbourhoods, with communities built around the employment opportunities that these factories offered.

They were not just part of the built fabric, they played a part in the social fabric of people’s lives and families, and the stories handed down from one generation to the next. Everyone knew someone who worked there. People met their partners at work, or made lifelong friendships. Soapworks even had its own football team.

Photo at top – Littlewoods workers during a children’s outing in 1975 © Littlewoods Digital Archive, courtesy of LJMU Special Collections & Archives & Preston Football Museum
Soapworks, previously the Colgate Palmolive factory, has always been an integral part of its local community © Colgate Palmolive Company

Our retrofits of locally significant workplaces in various cities have created newly successful, commercial destinations, which tapped into their existing identities as much-loved neighbourhood landmarks, established over time by the people that had worked in them and lived alongside them.

Soapworks cafe today © INNOV8 Property Solutions Ltd

Retrofit today still has the power to signal positive change, embracing the existing community in redevelopment and ensuring that buildings are once again at the heart of economic and social activity in the neighbourhood.

Our redevelopment for Capital&Centric of the disused Littlewoods building in Liverpool, once the home of ‘The Pools’ and a huge regional employer, will put it back at the heart of the city’s economic prosperity and national profile. As a new creative hub for the UK’s burgeoning film industry, it will offer numerous local training and employment opportunities, as the city stakes its claim to become the ‘Hollywood of the North’.

We will work with the existing building to consolidate its inherent strengths and those moments of historic emotional connection which can express history, community and place. A working clock will be reinstated on the building’s tower and the former canteen will be transformed into a screening area, with a food hall, open to the public out of hours.

The lively community of Littlewoods workers, counting pools results © Littlewoods Digital Archive, courtesy of LJMU Special Collections & Archives & Preston Football Museum
The proposed regeneration of The Littlewoods Project © Our Studio

An equally strong message of better times ahead can be found at Zodiac our scheme in Croydon for Common, where we are taking a locally significant but disused commercial building to create a strong high street presence with new community uses. A people-first approach for this permitted development will bring the building back into meaningful use, create a new public space – Broad Green Common – in front of the building, restore an active high street and provide much needed housing for a hugely proud and diverse community.

New housing and public uses at Zodiac, currently on site © Infinite 3D and shedkm

Seeing buildings that we once loved fall into disrepair can have a significant emotional and psychological impact. What once mattered to us seems to no longer matter to others, and can leave people and communities feeling forgotten. Retrofit gives us the opportunity to reverse decline, signal hope and include existing communities in the positive evolution of our towns and cities.