Carbon-neutral space with passive solar gain at Monastery of St Francis & Gorton Trust

The Monastery of St Francis & Gorton Trust, the charity that owns the E.W. Pugin-designed former Church and Friary in east Manchester, is building a new front wing for the 150 year old Grade II* listed buildings, on the footprint of an original building taken down in the 1960s. It will provide flexible, purpose-designed and carbon-neutral space, allowing the Trust to expand and extend its facilities and projects for the local community and general visitors, while continuing to host corporate and private events.

With building work expected to be completed shortly, it is anticipated that the Welcome Wing will open to the public early in 2017.

Restoration and conservation work in the Great Nave will also see floors repaired, altars stabilised and paint schemes protected and conserved.

The appointment of HH Smith & Sons Ltd, Ltd will work alongside a professional team managed by specialist Project Managers, Buro Four. The scheme is designed by Eco Arc, an ecological architecture practice based in Kendal, Cumbria. They complement the Monastery’s sustainability policy, where it is working towards achieving the ISO20121: Sustainable Event Management Certification. The Monastery Trust actively encourages this by employing local people and sourcing many goods and services from the City Region.

Gorton Monastery

Edward Pugin, one of the leading architects of the day and whose father Augustus was the architect for the Houses of Parliament, was commissioned to design and build the imposing church and friary on Gorton Lane by the Franciscans in 1863.

The Franciscans left the site in 1989 and after a failed attempt by a developer to convert the buildings into apartments the buildings were finally handed over to the care of the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust in 1996 after 7 years of neglect.  The Grade II* Monastery’s £6.5 million restoration was funded by major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund, English Heritage, and private donations. Northwest Regional Development Agency(NWDA)and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

The Monastery is widely regarded as Manchester’s most unique and inspiring events venue. Its flexible space accommodates up to 450 people and is ideal for events from product launches and corporate celebrations to weddings and large social occasions. For smaller, more intimate occasions, the Private Chapel can hold up to 50 people and is perfect for private dining or small business events.

Monastery of St Francis & Gorton Trust
Monastery interior
ecological architects

It has won a Gold Award as Best Unusual Venue UK, in the prestigious national Meetings and Incentive Travel Awards for an unprecedented three years in a row, and has been a finalist in other categories including Best Conference and Banqueting Staff and Best Value for Money Venue in the past two years, making it the most successful North West venue since its first nomination in 2011. In November 2014 at the Wedding Industry Awards, The Monastery was voted the ‘Best Wedding Venue’ in any Town or City in the North West of England. It is also winner of the North-West Business Masters Pride award 2015.

In December 2014 the Trust succeeded in securing over £3m for the construction of the Welcome Wing Project and to continue its restoration and conservation work in the former Church and Friary. The Heritage Lottery Fund will release funds of almost £2m during and after the construction period, with another £1m granted by the Stoller Charitable Trust and its founder, local businessman Sir Norman Stoller. Other grants and donations have been received from The World Monuments Fund and Garfield Weston, plus the Warburg Trust, J Paul Getty Trust, Manchester Guardian Society Charitable Trust, the Duchy of Lancaster and Mr John Kennedy, as well as donations by the general public and visitors.

The Welcome Wing will provide additional and flexible space that will include a new reception area, space for functions, exhibition materials and a community space with dedicated education room as well as health and well-being facilities. Alongside the new build the Trust will continue the work begun in 2005, to restore and conserve important artefacts and features within the Great Nave including areas around the altar and reredos, the Lady Altar, plus original paint and stencil schemes, floor tiles and stone carvings.

Elaine Griffiths, Chief Executive of the Monastery Trust said: ”This is the biggest investment we have made in the building since we completed the major £6.5 million restoration work to save the Monastery in 2007. We believe we have found the right partners with Eco Arc Architects and HH Smith to deliver our much-anticipated Welcome Wing and realise our long-held ambition to ‘Open Every Day for Everyone’. We will remain open for business as usual and will continue to hold our free open days, so visitors and clients can view the work in progress.”

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North-West said: “Gorton Monastery is already a hugely significant landmark for the people of Manchester and is a well-used community space. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, this project will significantly add to Gorton’s already impressive offer by helping create the new Welcome Wing and allow the continuation of urgent conservation works. This project demonstrates how a heritage building, while providing an important link to a community’s roots, can also be adapted for the needs of today.”

New Welcome Wing Project

The primary focus of the capital works will be the development of an extension of the main Monastery building to complete the front wing and enclose the Cloisters and garden space. The development of a front wing will provide 583m2 of valuable additional space.

The design of the front wing relates to the scale and materiality of the existing building but does not impinge or copy the inspiring existing building.

The key briefing objectives are:

  • The development of a front Welcome Wing will provide an additional area to complete the cloister arrangement with a single storey extension to the south wing to allow the passage of sun light into the cloister garden and with a dedicated education / interpretation exhibition space at first floor level and community hub room with fixed interpretation on the 2nd Floor to the east wing utilizing the existing 3 storey access stairs and lift.
  • The construction of a new front wing will significantly reduce the tension between the two separate sets of objectives (community & corporate use), creating space for both to co-exist simultaneously.
  • It has been designed to provide a modern and flexible function and will include new ground floor learning activity and event space, washroom facilities which are currently lacking in the main facility and a multi-purpose reception which can display ‘gift’ items for purchase. The reception is to be multi-functional to enable a meet/greet space and to sign in conference guests and visitors. During large events the reception store will become a cloak room space.
  • A new dedicated reception area will allow foot traffic to enter the buildings via two separate routes – one directly into the new wing front entrance and the other into the Friary via the ASL tower Foundation entrance, this means that disparate groups can be included at the same time. This has been tested during a ‘day in the life’ workshop running a combination of scenarios which will occur in a typical week at the Monastery.
  • The new entrance/reception space will also provide opportunity to install interpretation exhibition materials to tell the story of the Monastery which, in turn can attract new audiences and opportunities for people to learn about the heritage.
  • The proposed development will allow for dedicated but flexible exhibition space and permit a far more involved, detailed and compelling telling of the story, allowing the Trust to share it with more people and in ways that will engage and attract groups who do not currently visit. The type/style of interpretation is being tested with the operational team at the Monastery to ensure it is flexible to suit the varying visitor/clients at the Monastery.
  • The proposed development will have minimal impact and intervention on the historic fabric.
  • The proposed development will complete the cloister arrangement to further support the Monastery towards a sustainable future.
  • The proposed development will create a new permanent function & exhibition space(s) that can either be operated simultaneously with the existing arrangements or independently and with flexibility.
  • The plans will complete the full cloister walk within an enclosed space, but also allow the cloister to be interrupted with a new space/function.
  • The Entrance forms a sense of transition and arrival. This space will enable the visitor to be welcomed and informed with the use of interpretation within these spaces.
  • Designed in flexibility will replace the current temporary arrangement with a permanent new function/exhibition space with:
    • Its own independent entrance with cloak room which can allow the function of the new spaces whilst the rest of the Monastery can be enjoyed separately and for other uses.
    • The new space will be flexible in size and potential uses.
Gold Award as Best Unusual Venue UK
Meetings and Incentive Travel Awards
Best Wedding Venue

Geometry, Alignments, Form & Scale With The Existing Building

The analysis of the existing E.W.Pugin’s setting out tile geometry in both the nave & the existing cloisters has been used to generate the new proposals in plan, elevation and form.

Sustainability / Environmental Design.

The Trust wishes to provide high quality exemplar environmentally designed accommodation for the local educational community while facilitating the continued development of their current venue activities with the protection and enhancement of the existing historic asset.

Monastery Welcome Wing : Summery of Eco Features

  • Natural Welsh Slate roofing to match existing roofs.
  • Locally sourced fired clay brick with lime pointing to match existing external walls.
  • Natural Forbo Nairn Linoleum flooring made from natural oils.
  • Recycled aggregate concrete blocks used in new inner leaf of masonry walls.
  • GGBS cement replacement in concrete slab & screeds.
  • Natural exposed primary timber structure to the single storey south Welcome Wing.
  • Extra-wide cavity wall construction to new external walls with super insulation of recycled glass.
  • Super Insulation provision to new under ground floor construction.
  • Super insulation of recycled glass to the sloping cathedral ceilings.
  • Extensive use of clearstory glazing and roof lights providing high levels of natural day light.
  • Solar design to give passive solar gain and net heat load.
  • Inclusion of timber fin solar shade fin louvers to control solar gain & glare.
  • Low E, argon filled triple glazed energy efficient timber doors, windows & façade fenestration.
  • Fully draft sealing airtight construction with air lock revolving entrance door.
  • Regulated natural cross & natural stack ventilation to improve thermal performance
  • Provision of low energy LED lighting system through out.
  • Full DDA compliant access & provision made for disabled persons.
  • Super low flush water saving toilets.
  • Wash hand basins with water saving aerated tap heads.
  • Dyson super-efficient air blade hand dryers.
  • Installation of Double A** energy saving electrical appliances & IT equipment.
  • Provision for extensive recycling facilities.
  • Avoidance of formaldehyde & off gassing processed materials.
  • Solvent free emulsion paints, stains & finishes used throughout.

Option to Add: Pending Future Funding & Approvals:

  • Biomass Wood Pellet Boiler to serve new and existing with low carbon space heating & hot water.
  • 4 to 8 kWp of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to produce renewable electricity from the sun.
  • Rain Water Harvester System to centrally collect rain water for WC flushing & garden irrigation.
  • Lime plaster to internal walls. 


The proposals preserve what is significant and vulnerable about this existing site and further enhances the asset with better connections with access for all, both physically and educationally to meet the clients brief. The proposed building when complete will be an invaluable asset to the existing site facilities, enhancing education, learning and enjoyment at the Monastery for all. The proposed design relates to the scale and materiality of the existing listed building asset, but is of its time and does not try and copy what is already a powerful and scholarly work of art.  The proposed design will provide inspirational spaces to raise the sprit & nurture the soul, whilst dramatically improving the operational flexibility & business sustainability of the Monastery for the benefit of all.

The new frontage will complete a building of harmony and beauty, built to the geometry, footprint and alignments determined by Pugin’s original architecture, so that the Monastery resonates with the Divine as was originally intended.

When complete the proposals will allow the Monastery to be open every day for everyone’.