A project which rescued a neglected building bringing it back into modern use as a restaurant and meeting place has been recognised by the Sussex Heritage Trust.
The judges praised the project saying it was “a labour of love carried out with strong support of the local community.”
The Award, presented at a Gala dinner, is for the transformation of one of Rotherfield’s oldest buildings into the bustling Courtyard Café.
Mark Wakelin from Tangent Space was approached by Anne and Geoff Evans in 2013 with a dream of turning the dilapidated listed building of 6 and 6a High Street, Rotherfield into a café, house and flat.
The original structure dates back to the 15th century, with an extra building being added 50 years later and then further extensions made in the 1830s and 1870s. In past times, the property has been a greengrocers and then more recently an antique shop which closed some time ago when the building was used solely as a residence and shop but then sadly was left to decline.
Its listed status and general decay were huge challenges for Tangent Space and the family. According to Mark Wakelin:
One of the biggest challenges was understanding the scale of the damage and general neglect.
Much of the interior was clad in boarding so it took a lot of work before we could understand and evaluate the scale of the damage. It’s amazing it was still standing.
Timbers and walls were rotted with damp from a defective gutter and the building was riddled with Death Watch beetle and Common Furniture beetle. Local East Sussex contractors were used on the project, together with specialists including an archaeologist with knowledge of Wealden oak framed houses, an historic plaster expert, and paint specialist. A consultant in water wells was also drafted in when one was discovered while digging up crazy paving in the back garden – a significant find at very nearly 7m deep and being dug by hand through sandstone.
Local Authority Wealden District Council were extremely supportive of the project, together with Rotherfield Parish Council who put the building forward for the Award. According to Robert Harris, Council Vice Chairman at the Rotherfield Parish Council:
We’re delighted with the work that’s been undertaken.
Tangent Space has created residential and business premises that are extremely sympathetic to the village’s architecture and Anne and Geoff’s vision has brought new life to Rotherfield during the day when it would otherwise be quiet.
When the judges visited the café they thought the whole project was an excellent example of how leading edge material and equipment were being used in a historical context.From purchasing the property in August 2013 and securing the permissions to make changes, to renovating the building and the café’s grand opening in December 2014, it has taken 16 months. Since that time the Courtyard Café has grown in popularity and become the hub of the village, welcoming parent and baby groups, parties and visitors, as well as providing a showcase for local artistic talent on the walls and window displays.
Retired local school teacher turned café owner, Anne Evans was thrilled with the Award:
It’s hard to imagine back to those first few months when we were trying to secure planning permission and listed building consent, while making some truly awful and yet remarkable discoveries about the property.
We’re extremely grateful to Mark at Tangent Space for his expert eye and take on conservation, along of course with everyone who worked on the project for making our dream of a family business here in the village we love a reality. And the Public and Community Award is the icing on the cake.
The Awards seek to recognise and reward high quality conservation, restoration and good design of newly built projects and encourage the use of traditional skills and crafts. A renovation of a 1950s house in Forest Row was one of the winners in the Small Residential category. Other winners ranged from the Kings Road Arches, involving the reconstruction of 26 arches to provide a vibrant new artists’ quarter in Brighton to the Kino Rye, a collection of Victorian School buildings, which were left empty and fell into disrepair, until a local volunteers group named ‘Fletcher in the Rye’ were formed – named after local playwright John Fletcher – which preserved the site to promote film and arts in Rye.