First Base Day Centre

Chloe Hobden from Camillin Denny Architects couldn’t have made my job any easier when I came to research Brighton Housing Trust’s First Base Day Centre on Montpelier Place recently.

Montpelier Place, between Lansdowne Road and Montpelier Terrace, is not a long stretch of road but it is a pretty one. One building of particular interest is the angular Montpelier Place Baptist Church which dates from 1967. Another is the Grade II* Listed St. Stephen’s Church which is home to First Base and soon to be subjected to major works.

Architects tend not to have time to act as architectural historians but it is best to approach sensitive restoration projects with a certain level of knowledge and, indeed, respect. It’s fair to point out that I rarely come across Chloe’s level of mastery and her careful research could only have improved the scheme.

St. Stephen’s Church actually began as a ballroom – but was located on an entirely different site! It was built by John Crunden in 1766 as the ballroom of the Castle Inn at the foot of North Street. It became King George IV’s private chapel in 1822 but was sold by Queen Victoria to the people of Brighton along with the rest of the Pavilion Estate in 1850. It faced demolition though when North Street was to be widened so was dismantled and rebuilt in its present location in 1852. It closed as a church in 1939.

The initial disappointment upon my arrival was not being able to use the grand front door. The cavernous space within easily made up for this despite acres of green, orange and blue paint which has been stained a variety of new shades by years of cigarette smoke. Although great work for the community goes on within (80-110 people use the resource daily), the interior is in urgent need of repair. Ivy growing through a number of window panes says it all really.

Chloe has essentially designed two fairly harmless structures which are to sit within the expanse of the main hall. The space currently feels overwhelmingly large whilst the facilities at the south end of the building appear cramped. The plan will solve both problems. A great deal of internal restoration work will be taking place and that means attending to cornicing repairs and a new paint scheme – celestial blue. Thankfully, the original front door is to be brought back into use.