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Giving buildings a second life

Conservation architect, Deniz Beck, has been commissioned as part of the ERMC team to assess the properties in Ryde and Newport for shopfront grants and she has prepared a feasibility study for Aspire to allow for more community use.

“I love mending and reusing to give things a second life and that transfers to buildings as well. Growing up in Istanbul, I was used to being surrounded by historical buildings and I lived in a very old part of town.

“There was so much history around us that if a Roman site was discovered during building excavations, they would cover it back-up because we had so many great examples already.

“Initially I was drawn to contemporary architecture and that was the field I wanted to follow. But when I came here to live, I fell in love with fortifications and industrial buildings and that was that.

“I love adapting existing buildings into a new use, repairing them – it is sustainable. I like the saying ‘the most sustainable building  already exists’ and a lot of big brands are now looking at this seriously and moving in this direction.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work on some wonderful projects locally. Working with ERMC, I was a Project Architect from start to finish for the Hotwalls Studios project in Old Portsmouth, where heritage funding enabled the creation of artists’ studios in the city’s historic defences. Some artists moved into Fort Cumberland when I worked with Historic England converting the casemates into studios and workshops from Hotwalls as we planned it to function as an incubator space.

“I have also worked on all three sea forts in the Solent starting with Spitbank Fort and really enjoyed that. The first time I went out by boat to Spitbank for a site visit before converting into a five star venue, I was colder than I have ever been in my life – I soon learned to wrap up and wear lots of layers. 

“I have been involved with the Heritage Action Zone from the outset. When Heritage England were visiting various places in the South before they decided where to allocate their funding, I was part of the team showing them around Newport and Ryde to look at the potential this area has, and the shopfront project is a result of that.

“I always believe collectively we are stronger and if we can improve a run of shopfronts it is more likely to encourage others. I am not suggesting changing everything, more let’s look at buildings in a different way, how we can recapture the story they have, create an attractive experience for people visiting them. We are lucky to have such amazing architecture in the high street.

“In Ryde, we are looking at how large units can be divided in a flexible way to make smaller, more manageable units that can be meaningful spaces for organisations like charities, youth clubs, art clubs, other cultural uses and independent retailers.

“In the high street If shops can be used for pop-up exhibitions before being tenanted, it brings footfall. People photograph the artwork and put it on their social media, people hear about the area – we are using buildings in a positive way and helping people’s well-being at the same time.

“I would love to see all empty buildings whether they are council owned or empty shops, used for three or four months for a local school art exhibition, temporary community project base or a yoga studio. It’s a way of keeping people in the High Street.

“The feasibility study for Aspire fits into this vision of creating new reasons to come to the High Street. If they run dance classes there, it will mean parents will go for a coffee in local cafes, see an impromptu exhibition, and shop while their children are attending the class.

“Newport still has the original mediaeval street pattern which is a bonus but there are a lot of different elements including the vital connection to the Quay.

“We need shopkeepers to realise what they have and the potential these beautiful buildings hold – and local people need to appreciate their High Streets and how special they are. They are essential to reawaken community spirit and maintain well-being”