Second National Award: Westgate Hall Highly Commended in Civic Voice Design Awards

In May, Westgate Hall won the community benefit category of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) South East Awards.

And now, a few days ago, in Central Hall, Westminster, thanks to the nomination of our local civic society, the Canterbury Society and before an audience of community representatives from around the country, Westgate Hall received its second nationally recognised award this year when it won Highly Commended in the Restoration Category of the inaugural Civic Voice Design Awards.

Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement  promotes community involvement in shaping the character of the places where people live.  It works to make localism tangible, for local people to be able to translate their vision for their communities into reality.  So this award is in fact for Canterbury’s community as a whole.  

Griff Rhys Jones, Civic Voice President, summarised the objective of the Design Awards in his opening remarks:  “What I really like about the Civic Voice Design Awards is that they are national awards which have been nominated by local community organisations like civic societies, residents groups, town and parish councils and other community based voluntary organisations, rather than the industry professionals.   These awards show that people are willing to welcome the new developments we need when they have been properly consulted and involved and where the quality of design has been of the highest standard.”

As context for Westgate Hall’s achievement, 62 entries were submitted from around the country, and of these, four schemes were shortlisted in each of the three categories – New Buildings, Public Realm and Restoration – with an overall winner in each.  These awards now provide a benchmark for community led projects nationally.  They should inspire others to take heart and realise they are not alone in their ambition for their communities and in the contributions they are making.

The superb brochure showcasing the 12 finalists makes clear why the judges included Westgate Hall.

Built in 1913 by public subscription as a drill hall for the Territorial Army, Westgate Hall lies in the heart of Canterbury, a focal point of community memories. Facing demolition a century later, the Westgate Community Trust went into battle to save the Hall for its history, its role in Canterbury’s community life and the part it could play adapted to the needs of the 21st century. The Trust’s tenacity and success in creating clever partnerships with a commercial cinema group has seen an unremarkable building brought back to life and transformed into something quite special – a fantastic community amenity and art house cinema.

That the Hall looks the way it does today is thanks to the vision of Canterbury’s Tim Ellis, Conservation Architect and Paul Mallion, chartered surveyor and Passivhaus designer

Their winning collaboration has achieved a fusion of conservation and restoration of the Hall’s original Edwardian features with 21st century green technology.  Thanks to their imaginative approach they have shown how the achievements of the past can be adapted to the needs of the present.


On accepting the award, we took the opportunity to address an observation made by the chair of the panel of five judges, Max Farrell, project leader for the Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment   that navigating contention was a common feature of the submitted projects.  And to amplify Civic Voice’s description of the Trust’s partnerships.

Yes, in the case of Westgate Hall, there was contention at the outset with all parties captured in their respective silos.  However the project succeeded thanks to the ability of all the sectors involved – public, private, non profit — to break out, find common ground and identify a common focus, in this case, community.  And of course, without our third partner, Canterbury City Council, our project would never have even happened.

What became clear on hearing the other award winners talk about their projects was that we share characteristics:  passion, dynamism, creativity, a spirit of cooperation, resilience, ability to identify, create and materialise a vision solving a community problem or creating opportunities for communities to come together to evolve in new directions.  Civic spirit is not theoretical or to be aspired to, it is alive and happening.

Westgate Hall’s adventure isn’t over.  Next up, potentially Project of the Year at the RICS national award ceremony in October in London.  It’s good to dream.

Westgate Hall