From First Base to first class

It has gone from pub ballroom to royal chapel and, more recently, a centre for the homeless – and, in the process, travelled across the centre of Brighton. Now the former church of St Stephens in Montpelier Place is open for business again after a 12-month restoration and refurbishment programme.

The Grade II* listed building, now the First Base day centre, has been sympathetically renovated to balance old with new. The result, says Regency Society trustee Professor David Robson, is an overall impression of cleanliness and light.

“It is an exemplary project, as good as anything of its kind in our town,” he says. “The architects appear to have addressed the issues associated with conserving an old building that has to accommodate a new use with considerable skill and ingenuity.

“Within the limits of a tight budget they have produced a design that restores the interior of the original ballroom, meets the exacting functional demands of a modern day centre and provides a bright, welcoming environment for its homeless users.”

Architects Camillin Denny decided to replace previous cubicles with new, free-standing fittings that are totally detached from the main walls. As well as exposing the original interior decoration, this has created a number of secondary spaces of different sizes.

Not all the decorative features have been fully restored because of limited funds but the main surfaces are light blue with the detail picked out in white. These period finishes are offset by two new ultra modern pods, which resemble white boxes with large glass panels.

The building started life in 1766 as the ballroom of the Castle Inn, near Castle Square. In 1822, George IV had the ballroom converted into a private chapel so he did not have to walk up the hill to go to church. In the mid 19th century, the chapel was relocated to Montpelier Place to prevent it being demolished by Brighton Council, who bought the Pavilion Estate from Queen Victoria. The church was renamed St Stephens and, with some additions to the frontage, continued to be used for worship until the 20th century.

It later served as a centre for the blind but, after being gutted by fire, was taken over by Brighton Housing Trust who brought it back into use as the First Base centre for the homeless.

The building was formally reopened on 7 July 2011.

Read more about the building and its history.

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