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Appleby Blue Almshouse

Appleby Blue, a social housing development of 57 almshouses in Bermondsey, south London, reached completion, and welcomed its 63 residents. The building is managed by United St Saviour’s Charity and provides independent living with a resident support model for over 65-year-olds in Southwark.

Reinventing the historic model of an almshouse, a form of sheltered housing by a private charity offering low-cost residential accommodation to the elderly, Appleby Blue provides a blueprint for future adult social housing. The building is designed to encourage residents and non-residents to come together through its open nature and progression of places to share, extending from the busy public high street to the more intimate walkways, cultivating a strong sense of community and reducing loneliness

The mid-rise development, which varies from five to two storeys, sits directly on the high street. It has a number of public-facing facilities, including the generous double-height Garden Room for shared activities. This is positioned between the high street and the interior Garden Court, linking the public activity of the street to the more reflective interior of the block. This light-filled room creates an invitation to the neighbourhood to engage in the array of intergenerational activities that will be programmed in this new community space.

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The Garden Room opens on to an expansive and lushly planted Garden Court. Measuring 40m x 8m, it echoes the courts of the coaching inns that were located along nearby Borough High Street, and forms the visual focus of the building, around which the individual homes are arranged. The Garden Court is conceived as an abstract woodland glade with a raised and gently cascading linear water feature running between a grove of gingko trees and an understorey of seasonal woodland flora (including ferns; sedges; hellebores; anemones; foxgloves; dogwood and flushes of seasonal bulbs like snowdrops and winter aconites). It offers a space for residents and visitors to socialise or relax in peace and quiet. The acoustics of the space coupled with the sound of the water feature combine to create a relaxing, sanctuary-like space for residents and visitors, whilst remaining just a few feet away from the local transport links that connect them into the city.

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A roof terrace on the second floor features a productive garden with raised beds for growing herbs and vegetables, as well as a planting mix of herbs, fruits, vegetables and companion planting with flowers for cutting, creating outdoor rooms for communal summer dining. The planting includes fennel, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, marjoram, wild strawberry, rhubarb with a mix of local apple and pear tree varieties. Raised beds have been created with residents in mind, to enable recreational gardening activities to continue to be accessible despite potential loss of mobility. Both gardens will be managed by a local gardening group, and United St Saviour’s is working alongside research partners at Bournemouth University to explore how multigenerational, socially inclusive activities can be co-created with older people around food growing, cooking and meal sharing, to improve their health, wellbeing and social connectedness.

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Designed to extend the grain of the Victorian terraced streets, reform the line of terraces to the high street, and rise to the scale of the adjacent post-war social housing, Appleby Blue is deeply embedded in its place. This is reinforced through its articulation of volume, projecting two-storey bay windows, articulated corners, and palette of long-lasting materials – pre-cast concrete, brick and solid oak. 35% of the energy required to run the building is generated on site from photovoltaics on the roof. The building is passively ventilated, with common areas equipped with an automated system of opening vents.

The name Appleby Blue celebrates the memory of one of UStSC’s original benefactors, Dorothy Appleby. ‘Blue’ refers to the central marketplace of Bermondsey, rooting the development in its locale and noting the charity’s ties to the area going back more than five hundred years.

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Project Info
Bermondsey, Southwark, London
United St Saviour’s Charity
Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Project architect/s:
Helen Lee, Anna Tenow, Graham Mateer, Pepijn Nolet
Social historian:
Ken Worpole
Planning Consultant:
Price & Myers, Pringer James Consulting engineers, Skelly & Couch, AWA Consultants
JTRE London