Public BuildingsHighgate Newtown Community Centre

A vibrant new piece of Camden: placing people and community at its heart.

Highgate Newtown Community Centre promises to be a vibrant community asset in the heart of Camden, stitching together local neighbourhoods and bringing new life to a cherished community facility in a socially diverse part of North London. This project resulted from a comprehensive engagement process, where we immersed ourselves in the local community, supporting residents and stakeholders to arrive at a shared consensus.

A vibrant public courtyard – a brand new piece of Camden – sits at the heart of our project and is the secret of its success. For a project that needed to bring people together, it does exactly that: giving the new community centre a welcoming civic presence and connecting neighbourhoods that had previously been divided. The building itself houses a wide range of valued community services as well as 41 new homes.

HNCC is an excellent example of how we look ‘beyond the red line’ as architects, testing how buildings can maximise impact on people and place. This is certainly a project that is greater than the sum of its parts, and testament to the power of community collaboration.

130% increase in participant membership

Engagement with 178 different stakeholder groups

New community centre model doubles catchment area reach

“RCKa listened closely to our residents. They took a tailor-made approach to their engagement which ensured everybody. The team used high quality visuals to effectively communicate the development of proposals. This resulted in stakeholders having far greater confidence in the project."

Louise Trewavas, Project and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Camden Council

Enagement as an enabling tool

Appointed by Camden Council in 2014, our task was to explore innovative avenues for securing the long-term future of Highgate Newtown Community Centre through site redevelopment. Chosen for our expertise in public engagement and a successful track record securing planning consent for complex urban projects, we recognized the difficulties of the site described as “one of the most challenging in the borough” – a result of its rich historic and political context. To tackle this, we questioned the constraints of the brief and examined the broader physical and social contexts.

As a practice we aim to create places that resonate with the people who use them. Implementing a tailored engagement process, we listened to diverse local perspectives, especially from hard-to-reach groups whose voices would otherwise go unheard. We liaised with over 200 stakeholders groups to navigate myriad overlapping interests and produce a strategic brief that worked for the site, its communities and the client.

"...I consider their approach to be outstanding.”

Louise Trewavas, Project and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Camden Council



The heart of the neighbourhood

Expanding the scope of the brief to investigate possibilities ‘beyond the red line boundary’ prompted us to delive into a wider masterplan – unlocking both the challenging site and wider strategic opportunities.

While the existing community centre was in the middle of its rich historical neighbourhood, it was not at its heart – tucked away behind other buildings, with the only access via a narrow one-way street. By opening up a new pedestrian route through the site, we have stitched together two neighbouring communities which had previously been isolated from one other, while providing safe, active pedestrian routes and spaces, culminating in a new public square.

This new public space sits at the heart of the development and will become a key community asset in its own right. Brimming with life and activity, it’s a versatile space for events, public gatherings and a sanctuary from the surrounding busy streets. The square also serves as an open hub providing access to the community centre, sports hall and surrounding homes.

Site location plan showing the wider neighbourhood

Proposed site layout plan

“The project is intended to improve the quality of life of local residents and other users, along with providing a common meeting place to enhance the sense of community for all who use the centre’s services, including volunteers and professional staff."

John Carrier, Trustee

Making it all stack-up

With limited capital funding for the project, we introduced housing to the site to provide 41 much needed new homes – including homes for key workers – to cross-fund the community facilities. The resulting mixed-use development, weaving together public life and private domesticity, establishes a positive dialogue with the surronding context while enhancing the character of the conservation area.

The new homes are contained in two blocks embracing the square, delivering a coherent piece of architecture with a bold identity that fixes the hole in the immediate context; continuing the rich local tradition of high-quality contemporary brick buildings and celebrating key features of the local vernacular by referencing architectural and landscape detail.

“RCKa has been involved with the redevelopment of our centre at the heart of north Camden from the outset. They have taken significant interest in us as a community facing organisation and taken the time and trouble to understand where we are coming from and that what we want for our community is a high quality product."

Robert Aitken chair Highgate Newtown Community Partners

Select awards

  • Planning Awards (award for Design Excellence), 2019
  • Housing Design Award, 2018

London Borough of Camden

Key Stakeholder
Highgate New Town Community Partners

On site

Highgate, London

Project Team
Alan Beveridge
Rhiona Williams
Maria Saeki
Christopher Permain
Dieter Kleiner
Hannah Cherry
James Hockey
Roger Bonnar
Lucy Devereux
Chris Scarffe
Quincy Haynes
Katie Hackett
Daria Szmucer
Mhari Stevenson
Emma Graham
Thomas Deckker
Alicia Arguelles
Edwin Veth
Michael Pitman


Project list