Esplanade Winter Gardens. Whitley Bay

On 25th November 1900, Mrs G Barclay opened St Cuthbert’s Presbyterian Church (Later Trinity United Reform Church) on Esplanade, completing Sir George Barclay Bruce’s vision for a church by the sea to host public worship and serve the local community with a church hall and school rooms.

Over the next 100 years the building continued to provide an important civic space for spiritual, social and educational gathering in the centre of Whitley Bay, however following a dwindling congregation the church building was closed in 2008 and later extensively damaged by a fire on 6th May 2017.

In 2019 plans were lodged with North Tyneside Council to demolish the building and replace it with 28 flats, threatening to bring to an end the public use of this important building.

Born out of a planning objection to this generic and private development on the site, four architectural capriccios form a counter-proposal for a new civic space in the town, one that is publicly accessible and open year round. The situations described in these collages envision a free use space capable of hosting events, children’s play, exhibitions, film, cafe, a market, and more within the setting of a rich bio-diverse environment.

Though Whitley Bay is developing thanks to funding and regeneration efforts such as the restoration of the Spanish City, there are few truly public inside spaces in the town that can extend the tourist appeal beyond the summer or provide an avenue for local culture for residents.

The proposal draws inspiration from Copenhagen’s Glyptoteket - a wonderful example of a civic space that operates year round thanks to its warm internal micro climate - the Granby Winter Gardens in Liverpool, and closer to home Sunderland’s winter gardens.

Though the fabric of the existing church building has been severely damaged by a number of fires, it is not necessarily the case that the building need be demolished to improve its appearance.

While demolition would erase the sites history, creative preservation offers the potential to add new layers of social meaning to an already rich history.

Accordingly, the designs propose maintaining the building in a semi ruinous state, while bringing it back to life though the innovative insertion of a greenhouse within the volume of the former nave, physically and metaphorically opening the building up to the community again.