Lovingly restoring and extending a collection of heritage buildings to create a unique and distinctive cultural and sporting destination.
Dating from 1873, Devonshire Park has long been an attraction within Eastbourne and for the wider south coast – originally playing host to cricket, tennis, racquets and roller skating for the Victorian middle classes. Now, as well as being home to three theatres, it hosts major tennis tournaments including the women’s warm-up contest for Wimbledon. However, over the years the facilities have fallen behind competitors and are in need of significant revitalisation.
Eastbourne Borough Council, led by Councillor David Tutt, instigated Devonshire Park’s overhaul, with a vision to go much further than simply upgrade the buildings. The key concept is for it to become a new attraction for the town – somewhere that visitors can enjoy state of the art amenities and a beautiful landscape.
As well as providing a new resource for the local community, the Council are keen to put Eastbourne back on the map and dispel the misconception of it being somewhere only for older generations to visit. In fact, the town is home to more young people than ever before, and the park needs to serve all generations both within the town and further afield. Devonshire Park will be a new focal point for the south coast – driving tourism, employment and profile – to create somewhere that locals will be proud to call their own.
We were invited to participate in a design competition by the Council and subsequently appointed to carefully restore the Grade II listed Devonshire Park and Winter Garden theatres and the Grade II* listed Congress Theatre; enhance the tennis facilities and provide a new conference building and public plaza. Throughout, we have sought to preserve and enhance the heritage significance of this unique site, whilst creating modern venues and facilities for performers and their audiences, sportspeople and their spectators.
Each of the three theatres brought their own challenges, from issues of overheating to outdated technology. Working in collaboration with Historic England, we looked at ways these could be overcome without compromising the fabric of the buildings. For example, a new independent stage grid in the Winter Garden Theatre will support a programme of amplified music without damaging the historic building fabric.
The new conference facilities sit in a striking modern building, conceived as a new pavilion in the park. We were keen to create a distinctive venue of real character and integrity to work well in its unique setting.
A landscape masterplan for the park sees the creation of a new public plaza in front of the theatres with an outdoor café and increased planting – reinforcing the parkland setting and strengthening connections with the seafront and town centre.
As the works are being entirely publicly funded, Eastbourne Borough Council has had to be certain of the project’s value and cost throughout. The new and improved theatres will be more profitable, the conference spaces will provide a new revenue stream and the staggered construction programme means other areas of the park can stay open for business – especially important throughout the tennis and panto season.