Historic University of Leicester landmark wins city heritage award

A project which has breathed new life into an historic University of Leicester landmark has won a heritage award.

Freemen’s Cottages, which front Welford Road and date back  to the mid-1800s, scooped the 2023 Heritage Award, in the Leicester Civic Society Architectural Awards, on Friday 20 October.

A familiar landmark, the row of cottages at 161 Welford Road, are of great historical significance as examples of relatively unaltered almhouses.

The University impressed Civic Society judges for its sensitive refurbishment of the Grade II-listed buildings, which form the centrepiece of its £150m Freemen’s student village.

The refurbishment saw the original buildings retained and improved internally, plus the addition of a glazed pavilion extension which houses a reception area, informal study space and break-out areas.  

“Leicester Civic Society were particularly impressed by the way the architects had been able to re-purpose this iconic Leicester landmark into a contemporary setting,” said the civic society’s awards coordinator, Richard Allsop.

He added: “The judges felt that despite, or perhaps because of, its heritage status, the architects had managed to integrate this building into the thoroughly modern setting of Freemen’s student village.”

Freemen’s Cottages were built in 1856 to provide accommodation for the city’s elderly freemen and their widows. They were extended in 1885 and 1893. The University teamed up with architects Sheppard Robson to refurbish the buildings, with work starting in 2019 in time for Freemen’s official opening, in October 2022.

Kirsty Woodward, the University’s Director of Estates and Campus Services, said: “Our transformation of the Freemen’s site was a huge capital project for the University, which posed a number of opportunities for our architects.

“We were determined to ensure Freemen’s Cottages would be a key element of the redevelopment. Their integration into the scheme creates a blend of new and old that adds character and depth to the project. We are delighted the Civic Society has recognised the care and attention we put into their refurbishment.”