Former St Mary’s Convent School, Ryde.
Options report for vacant St Mary's Church buildings
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth is considering options for what could be done with the
vacant former Convent School and former parish school, alongside St Mary’s Church in Ryde. They are being assisted by the Ryde High Street Heritage Action Zone, which considers it a priority for the town.
The Diocese has commissioned Thomas Ford and Partners, specialist conservation architects, to
prepare an options appraisal for the site and Thomas Ford and Partners have engaged the Destination Consulting team of Colliers, who are business planners, to help explore options.
We asked for your views in the form of a short survey, which was open until 30th April 2022.
The completed report will be shared once approved by the Diocese.
St Mary’s Church is a landmark towards the south of Ryde High Street. The whole site is in a
Conservation Area. The church was designed by a well-known Catholic architect, J. A. Hansom, and was paid for by the Countess of Clare, a wealthy Catholic convert. It opened in 1846. It is of high
architectural and artistic quality. Historic England are currently considering upgrading it from Grade II status to Grade II* status, putting it within the top 8% of most important historic buildings in England.
Evidence has recently been uncovered of the original colourful decorative scheme which could look
spectacular if reinstated.
Next to the church is 55 High Street. It was originally a pub on the High Street side, with Ryde
Conservative Club at the rear. The church purchased it in 1883 for conversion to a convent school. A
classroom block was built at the back in the 1960s. The convent closed and the school moved to a new site in the 1990s. The frontage of 55 High Street currently has the Parish Centre and accommodation for the resident priest. The buildings at the rear have been empty for a number of years.
The wider church site also contains a former parish primary school that was, until recently, the St
Car parking is of great value to the church and needs to remain, but it could also service other activities on site.
Our plan is that the church will be restored and that improved parish facilities, including a new
community centre that can provide space for many church related community activities, will be
provided. This will only need part of the site, however.
We expect most or all of the rest of the property to be refurbished. The 1960s classroom block at the
rear might either be reused or demolished.
We think that the principal ways in which the substantial area not in the use of the Parish could be
1. As “workspace” that can be used for many types of activity, commercial or otherwise.
2. Or as residential.
3. Or as a combination of the two.
Below this introduction are outline plans showing the quantum of space that is available for these uses alongside the new parish facilities. New access points, stairs, and lifts would, of course, be needed.
Some examples for how the workspace option might be used are:
• A small business centre. This would rent space to a mix of different type of businesses.
• An artisan centre. This would be a variation where all or most of the space is let to companies
and individuals that make things (e.g. coffee roastery, craft brewery, furniture maker, artist).
• An events centre. This could, for example, be in the large space once the Conservative
Association (G2) or in the former Parish Centre at the south east corner of the site (B7).
• A café or café-bar, perhaps attached to the events centre.
• A health and welfare hub, where a variety of different types of practitioner (e.g. dentist,
chiropractor, podiatrist, nutritionist) can rent space.
• A community centre, providing studio space for people to run activities like exercise and
dance classes and for non-profit organisations to rent space.
Possibilities for residential include:
• Apartments of different sizes within the existing buildings.
• Single houses, or possibly guest house, converted from buildings like B3 (the Old Presbytery),
G1, F1, S1.
• New build terraced cottages on the site of the old Classrooms (B6, G3).
Residential property could be just sold on the market or could be subsidised to be affordable.
It will probably be necessary to obtain grant funding to make any of these happen because of the high cost of restoring and converting listed buildings. The church does not have financial or other resources to undertake the project on its own.
One option for the workspace concept is to establish a non-profit making organisation, probably a
charitable trust, to raise the funds and be the landlord. It could later work on restoring other historic
buildings in Ryde.