Research from The Arts Council has recently shown that access to high-quality arts experiences in schools is beneficial to all aspects of learning, it is more important than ever for educational institutions to provide innovative, multi-functional spaces that allow students to thrive artistically.
Creativity and performance add immeasurably to education and life skills. Art activities such as music and dance classes, recitals, art projects and theatre productions give students a much-needed chance to express their ideas, build on their observational skills, promote feelings of self-worth and confidence, and develop their creativity and imagination.
An institution that has invested heavily in world-class, multi-use arts facilities is Sherborne Girls – a full-boarding girl’s school in Dorset, where Morgan Sindall Construction recently delivered a £6m arts centre.
Located in the market town of Sherborne, North Dorset, Sherborne Girls is an independent boarding school with a cohort of more than 480 students. Established in 1899 to run alongside King Edward VI boys’ public school, Sherborne Girls has a reputation of long-standing excellence within education and co-curricular activities, earning the school the title of Best Public School by Tatler Schools Awards for 2018.
In 2017, Morgan Sindall Construction was appointed by Sherborne Girls to build its brand new performing arts centre.
The development, noted as the most ambitious in the school’s history, looked to provide the institution with a building that would not only be academically functional, but also enable the school to host professional performances available to the wider school community.
Morgan Sindall Construction worked closely with award-winning architecture firm Burrell Foley Fischer to provide a building that acts as an inspiring landmark within the estate grounds, with a striking timber frame exterior in keeping with the school’s rural setting.
This resulted in The Merritt Centre – named after Gwendoline ‘Queenie’ Merritt, a much-loved member of the housekeeping team and benefactor of the school. The centre ‘sits low’ on the southward sloping campus, ensuring that views to hills from existing buildings are not lost, and includes a flexible, high-quality recital space, sound proofed practice rooms, fully equipped recording studios and a cafe for the students to relax and socialise.
The building is highly insulated with a concrete substructure and cross laminated timber (CLT) superstructure. The majority of the building is naturally ventilated and has the potential to utilise geothermal energy. The centre also has carefully specified glazing to manage sunlight, and the implementation of brise soliel and pergolas to provide natural shading.
The foyer adjoining the music, drama and art departments is designed to provide a prominent display space for the students’ work, and act as a central meeting place for the school community.
The project has been recognised within the industry and has been shortlisted for the Education Project of the Year in the 2019 Structural Timber Awards. Morgan Sindall Construction has also been shortlisted as Contractor of the Year for the project.
Jon Daines, Area Director for Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “Morgan Sindall Construction has a long-standing reputation for delivering world-class educational facilities, and The Merritt Centre at Sherborne Girls is no exception. The finished development is a stunning building at the heart of the school that provides an inspiring centre for the arts both for the immediate school community and beyond.
“This investment stands testament to the school’s continued commitment to developing student’s academic and creative ability, as well as providing a space for the wider school community to enjoy a multitude of artistic activities.
“Sherborne Girls has a history of high-quality teaching, and this new arts centre will bolster the school’s creative offering and reputation for excellence going forward.”
Morgan Sindall Construction also worked closely with students and staff to ensure they were engaged and informed throughout the construction of the new centre. Activity included inviting students from the school to don hard hats and step onto the construction site to see how work was progressing during visits hosted by the site team.
The engagement activity aimed to not only enable the students to see their new centre during the build, but also to promote the opportunities available for young people in construction and the wider Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector. The students were taken on a tour of the site and took part in a session on Building Information Modelling (BIM), a 3D model-based process used for creating and managing information on a construction project.
Dr Ruth Sullivan, Headmistress at Sherborne Girls, said: “Music and the Arts have always been central to life at Sherborne Girls and we are thrilled that we now have a venue that can cater for the increasing number of girls playing instruments, singing in choirs or involved in speech and drama.
“The added bonus of being able to share the venue with our local community gives it a whole extra dimension and we look forward to welcoming visitors and planning exciting, inspiring events.”
In June 2019, the school marked the opening with a week-long Festival of Arts, which was a celebration of music, speech and drama performances culminating in the final opening ceremony by alumnae, Dame Emma Kirkby, and a commemoration concert.
The Merritt Centre at Sherborne Girls has provided a functional and inspiring place for students to thrive creatively, showcase their work and has given the wider community a chance to enjoy performances by the pupils and professional artists, musicians, actors and entertainers. The project has not only given the creative arts the inspiring home it deserves, but also created a welcoming hub at the heart of the school, which will benefit the daily lives of the students, staff and Sherborne community for generations to come.