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At Kingston University, its landmark Town House opened its doors briefly in January, only to close under Government COVID-19 rules. As the academic year started in September, the Town House library reopened to all Kingston students and staff at reduced capacity. Secured by Design looks behind the scenes at how proven police crime prevention measures were introduced from design beginning to completion to ensure it is safe and secure for all users.
To design a university building that keeps students and staff safe, while encouraging members of the public (once safe to do so despite the pandemic) to share its library, cafes and meeting rooms?! But that is exactly what has been achieved with the new Town House, which has been designed to act as a gateway to the university for residents and businesses, in line with the uni’s south west London community ethos.
Through its revolving, street level, front door is a foyer, a covered auditorium and an 80-seat theatre. Above the three dance studios on the first floor is a showcase library that extends to the fourth floor, including an archive. There are cafes on the ground and fifth floors and group rooms on the second and third floors.
The public availability to all floors has meant that the security and access requirements of every door and the position of more than 100 CCTV cameras were considered individually, to allow for appropriate use by day as well as late into the evening.
Clear sight-lines were important too, especially around the circular front welcome desk and on the library floors where shelving units are only four tiers high, to maximise surveillance.
As for external safety and security, access to stairwells, swipe card cycle storage and the landscaping at the front of the building create clear lines of vision. Cycle routes and a wide enough pavement allow for large numbers of students arriving and leaving the building at once. A 24/7 control room monitors the place.
Designing Out Crime Officers from the Metropolitan Police were involved in their first meeting about security at the new Town House in January 2015 – eight months before planning permission was granted, and two years before any building work.
Many meetings followed, with security consultants, the University’s security and faculty teams, Grafton Architects and contractor Willmott Dixon. The aim; an open and welcoming building that will be ‘seen and appreciated’ and become part of the community. Planning was vital, especially as electrical services were cast into the concrete skeleton of the building prior to it arriving on site.
Pat Simcox, a Designing Out Crime Officer with the Met, said that boundary treatment, accessible stairwells, cycle parking, CCTV, access control and multi-use areas were all discussed along with many other security considerations. She said there were ‘security walk-throughs’ to evaluate the access requirements of every door and the position of every CCTV camera.
She said: “The security was under review constantly and there was a readiness to address issues that weren’t obvious from the site plans. As well as all the meetings, there have been nearly 170 emails between myself and numerous parties regarding this building.”
Designing Out Crime Officers are police officers or police staff who work for police forces, on crime prevention standards and principles required by Secured by Design (SBD), the UK official police security scheme, which seeks to deter and reduce crime in all kinds of building sectors including housing, education, health, transportation, sport and leisure and business and commercial.
Lyn Poole, Development Officer, SBD, said: “The Kingston University Town House project shows the level of commitment of members of the Police Service to bring together different parties like architects, developers and building project managers over a long period of time to focus on achieving a common goal: to deter crime and keep a building safe for all its users and the local community.”
Insp Matt Turner, of the Partnership and Prevention Team at the Met, said: “Kingston University Town House is a great example showing that early engagement and good partnership working can achieve fantastic results. It ensures that security considerations are incorporated throughout the development in a subtle manner and not seen as an awkward after thought. The Town House is a great facility for the students and local community and the design will help reduce opportunities for crime and demand on policing.”
Gary Young, Estates Town House Technical Co-ordinator, said they had visited other universities to seek best practice and found a spectrum; ranging from relaxed to imposing security, and in some cases found that the security was compromised by the architecture of the building.
He said: “We have had a very different way of looking at it. All of our buildings here make up a very open campus. That’s exactly what we want to achieve. We didn’t want to put up a building that went against our established ethos.
“We have a college just down the road from us, and hopefully its students will be our future students. It’s nice that it’s an open environment because it bridges the gap between the university and the local community.
“Assessing the needs of students, staff and members of the public has been very complicated but we have found a resolution to it.”
Ian Appleford, Head of Health, Safety and Security, said: “It’s a balancing act. We are a community facing organisation and we want the place to be seen and appreciated. We have a duty of care to our staff, students and all the building’s users.
“We want the architectural features to be utilised for the purpose that they were intended -and have ensured that reasonable measures and restrictions are in place that can be applied as and when we need them. This helps us use the building for a range of purposes.”
About the old Town House
It dated from the 1980s and was Portakabins piled together under a sloping roof. It was home to the Student Union and some teaching and office space, which has since been re-located to the neighbouring university building. The Town House was demolished in 2016 and the new one opened on January 6, 2020.
Picture by Dennis Gilbert; fourth floor, looking down to third floor library, Town House, Kingston University.