This Award follows on from its first prize in the Community Category of the annual Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) 2018 Awards, North East in April and securing three first prizes: Regional Award, Sustainability Award and Best Client Award in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) North East Awards 2018.
The original education and visitor centre was destroyed in an arson attack in June 2010 and resulted in subsequent demolition.
The building had been open to visitors all year round and held records of wildlife sightings along the whole of Druridge Bay collected over many years; vital survey and research reports were also lost in the blaze.
Undaunted by this, the Trust set about building a new visitor centre and transforming the whole reserve into an exceptional place to watch wildlife. It re-opened to the public in June 2017, almost seven years to the date. In the first year, in excess of 91,000 people visited the reserve.
Designed to high eco standards by North Shields based architects Brightblue Studio and built by an army of dedicated volunteers over 26,000 hours, the Wildlife Discovery Centre was all made possible thanks to money raised by National Lottery players through a grant of £522,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The LABC judging panel felt that the development was exceptional in the methods of engagement and resulting innovative construction and design. Indeed the volunteer contributions in terms of their time and effort kept the project viable, with many people learning new skills along the way.
Materials throughout the building were of sustainable design; including load bearing straw bale constructed walls and earthen floors. The materials for the floor were sourced from the earth underneath a nearby road interchange that was undergoing construction at the time.
As well as its construction, the running of the building had been considered from a sustainability POV with a biomass boiler as the primary heating source and rainwater harvesting.
The development team overcame a number of practical issues, which demonstrated their flexibility and problem solving abilities. Mining risk issues were dealt with through geogrid layers as part of the foundation design, to negate movement.
The sensitive environment and the physical position of the site meant that it was not suitable for cranes, resulting in a need to bring elements such as the glulam beams into place manually, further demonstrating the significant contribution that the volunteers made to the development.
Speaking about the building and the Award, Dawn McQuillan BSc Chair
LABC Northern Region said: “I’m delighted that this innovative project won the Best Public Service Building. It is an excellent example of teamwork and collaboration, leading to the creation of a building that will benefit the local community for many years to come.”
A delighted Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust Chief Executive said: “This award is further recognition of the amazing achievement of the Trust working with volunteers, staff and the Brightblue architect Henry Amos and his team who created a very special building which works on so many different levels - it is beautiful to look at, holds a lovely welcoming atmosphere and provides an excellent space in which to relax and watch wildlife watch.
The new centre has also become a great asset to the local community and a joy to visitors and is helping to connect thousands of people with nature. We all feel very honoured to receive this award which recognises these qualities and the efforts involved.”
The Award also recognises the wonderful financial support the project received, from not only National Lottery players but also charitable trusts, legacies, corporate supporters, local companies and public donations.