Finding the right architect

 Conversion of the Old Coop building was a huge and daunting prospect – we needed good guidance as we could not afford to make mistakes.  We were keen to convert part of the building quickly so we could begin working on a small scale whilst fundraising to convert the whole building.  We met an incredible person John Thornton who immediately empathised with our dream and started working with us knowing we had no money to pay him.

His confidence in us was inspiring and gave us strength to carry on through disappointments and inevitable building hitches.

John remembers both the experience and the process of making decisions and designing the building the Pecket Way:

“I’d got a phone call from Gillian and Pete and I met them in the Pecket building in Gills flat. There were two dogs – Sid and Masie I think and it wasn’t a typical meeting! They explained what they wanted, showed me round the building asked about viability. I worked with them over a number of years before funding was received and I learnt a lot about the people there. What was difficult was the lift as we wanted to put it inside, quite a challenge. These days you might be braver and put it outside. We converted the shop first then the basement rooms. I felt really privileged to be involved in a project with such a valuable use, not every project has such a use. I came to think of it as one of the best times. I’d never been involved in adult literacy – couldn’t have put time into teaching so [I thought I could do this – drawing the Pecket dream]. In the design process I had to consult about the functions and spatial requirements at meetings. They often said more about how they wanted it to feel – personal and intimate. It was an uncommon element wishing to express a sense of repair of something gone wrong. It was an opportunity to provide a place where they felt comfortable. Not cushions – but psychologically.”

One founder member also remembers the lift incident: “[We had] a disabled member and she challenged the architect and said, ‘Is the lift going to be big enough for me’? …. and John Thornton looked at her and said ‘I don’t know’. He took her to the lift manufacturers and they tried it out and it wasn’t big enough so he had to re-design the conversion”. They found the right lift and had it installed:

John is very creative himself and drew a sketch and limerick about Pecket. Click on the image below if you want to enlarge it:

A pencil sketch of Gillian Frost's dogs watching Peter Goode on TV, with a small poem by John Thornton, college architect, on the first anniversary of the college opening 11 March 1993.