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Hackney Night Shelter


London, UK


Hackney Night Shelter

Gross Floor Area m²




For over 25 years Hackney Night Shelter (HNS) has offered beds to people experiencing homelessness in Hackney. What started as a network of volunteers from local residents and churches has developed into an effective route out of homelessness for those it supports.

Prior to 2019 the shelter operated out of various local community spaces (churches, schools and halls). This arrangement presented a number of challenges and limited the level of support we were able to offer. We therefore sought a more permanent venue and in 2020 moved into a venue in Stoke Newington, which we operated out of until late 2022 when our lease ended.

With the cost-of-living crisis and increased rental charges, HNS is experiencing unprecedented demand for its services and so as part of our forced relocation, we sought a larger venue with the hope of significantly increasing the number of guests we could accommodate, up to 30 guests a night. Hackney Council kindly obliged, giving us temporary use of a ground floor office space on Well Street. Hackney themselves do have plans for the building (they are looking to convert the space into a ‘homeless hub’) and so we were only offered a lease with a three month break clause. Whilst the uncertainty around the length of our tenure is frustrating, it is nevertheless a good use for a building that would otherwise be unused. We also know from experience that refurbishment and redevelopment works typically take a lot longer to happen than is initially planned. We were in our last building for two years, considerably longer than the initial expectation. And hope that this will be repeated at this venue.

Inevitably, relocating to a disused office space presented some interesting challenges. For example the power supply in the kitchen was inadequate so were unable to fit a big cooker, the lights were all on movement sensors which required an electrician to install switches before the rooms could be used as bedrooms, and it took the council’s contractors several months to fix the heating so we had to provide extra blankets!

Despite these challenges, thanks to the support we received, the premises here are looking very nice indeed and are functioning really well as a night shelter. We have been visited by several other night shelter projects and are the envy of them all!

We are very grateful to Hackney Council for making the venue available to us. Other shelters are using us as an example in their lobbying attempts of their local authorities to make similar properties available for them to use as temporary night shelters. So far only Greenwich have provided similar premises for their local night shelter. It would be super if our project could be instrumental in encouraging other local authorities to follow suit. There is a huge need for short-term emergency accommodation for homeless people across London and there is a significant number of temporarily unused buildings, often owned by local authorities, which could be used in this way.

Mark Palframan
Director, Hackney Doorways

Pilbrow & Partners became involved in November 2022, after one of the Directors received an email from Mark regarding their new premises. It was clear that the space needed work and Mark was eager to recruit a team to help lead and coordinate the renovation. The space had been vacant for a long time and significant work was required to turn it into a comfortable and safe environment before the first guests moved in in mid January 2023.

The practice had recently returned from a trip to Barcelona and we were inspired by an initiative called ‘Zero Flat’, designed by Daniel Cid and colleagues, and run by Arrels Fundació, an organisation that supports people who suffer from severe destitution and addiction. Having seen the success of this initiative and the positive impact it was having in Barcelona, we were keen to contribute to similar initiatives once back in London.

Pilbrow & Partners working with a small team of consultants, suppliers and contractors, all of whom kindly volunteered their time and resources, worked with HNS and their army of volunteers to transform the space. Mace, with whom we are working on our Edge London Bridge project, put us in contact with the requisite subcontractors (electrical, MEP and washroom) to assist with the renovation. P&P working with creative communications agency, Zetteler, procured a list of ‘friendly’ suppliers and approached them for donations of FF&E.

David Grandorge and his Unit 7 architectural students at London Metropolitan University assisted with carpentry and the construction of new openings. These provided natural light to bedrooms and a visual connection to the central courtyard. Upon cutting into the internal lining we discovered a metal mesh which we later found out was in fact a faraday cage put in place to inhibit internet and telephone signals (the room had previously been used to conduct police interviews). Working with an existing building is never dull.

As a result of the team’s hard work and dedication the venue, which was bleak and uninviting, has been transformed. The refurbished venue provides HNS with all the necessary spaces and functions in requires to support its guests and provide them with a route out of homelessness.

The shelter has now been open for two months and is currently hosting 18 guests. The amazing team at HNS have already found permanent accommodation for 9 previous guests. The venue is still a short-term solution. HNS have only been granted a 6 month lease (although it is anticipated that this will be extended) and therefore does not provide them with the permanent and purpose-built venue they desperately need. Nevertheless we are incredibly proud to have been part of this endeavour and we look forward to continuing our support.

Philip Earley
Director, Pilbrow & Partners

The team:
o Florence Barbour (Design Lead)
o Gary Rutter and Michael James (Mace Group)
o Modular Interiors
o SES Engineering Services
o Mark Davison (Semper)
o Sabine Zetteler (Zetteler)
o David Grandorge and Unit 7 architecture students at London Metropolitan University
o Clare Potter (Project Manager)
o Edward Bulmer Paint
o Holte Kitchens
o Camira Fabrics

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