Cambridge Advice Bureau
Refurbishment and accessibility project
This project involved converting a derelict 1950s industrial building into a permanent home for the Cambridge and District Citizens Advice Bureau. The ground floor comprises a spacious reception with eight interview rooms, together with office areas for staff and volunteers. At first floor level is a large open plan office intended for letting to other third sector agencies, together with two large training rooms.
First established in 1939, Cambridge & District CAB was created to advise people on practical and legal issues connected with the war, such as rationing, housing, blackouts and financial issues. Subsequently, they provided support and advice on benefits from the new welfare system set up in 1948, and continue to address a growing range of issues. After moving between a number of rented locations, the opportunity arose to acquire and develop this former photo processing works, which now forms the base for one of the largest CABs in the country, with a well-earned reputation for being forward thinking.
What I have found particularly impressive about the building … is that people who come for help and advice immediately find themselves in an environment that exudes excellence and attractiveness.
Sir Mervyn King
The building was officially opened by Sir Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, on 12 July 2010. In his address, Sir Mervyn had the following to say:
“What I have found particularly impressive about the building … is that people who come for help and advice immediately find themselves in an environment that exudes excellence and attractiveness.
What we have to do is make facilities like this first rate, not just in the quality of advice, which has always been there, but in the facilities, the architecture, the environment. When someone walks through that door needing a solution to problems which have made their life perhaps almost unbearable at present, they want to feel they have come somewhere where all the people and the environment exude success. “We will help you overcome your difficulties.” However bad they may seem out there, once you’re in here there is a sense of confidence which is shared with the client, that these problems, difficult though they may be, can in fact be overcome. And it is vital therefore, and we shouldn’t be ashamed, that the architecture is first rate.”
Sir Mervyn’s comments show the important role that architecture can play in addressing social need and encouraging human flourishing; they are a powerful endorsement of Archangel’s approach to community architecture.
The site, which is in a conservation area, was extremely tight, and the retention of major elements of the Victorian buildings meant that a careful sequencing of the works was essential. The building opened in 2014, and is increasingly well-used for a wide range of community-based activities; the St Andrew’s Centre website gives more information on the life of the building.
The building also offers a lesson in loose-fit design. Due to demographic changes, combined with the difficulty in sourcing volunteers, the ‘Stepping Stones’ playgroup closed in 2020; the church continues to serve those families in the community with small children through its thriving Baby Club and Toddlers groups, for which the building remains well-suited. It does however underline the need to periodically reimagine our activities in response to broader changes in the community; this is made much easier if buildings are designed in the first place to allow a degree of such reimagining. All part of what is already a rich narrative.