In September of 2017, the Ash team won a £4.2mil contract for Phoenix Community Housing Trust to carry out restoration and refurbishment works to the Fellowship Inn in Bellingham. Almost two years on and the venue has reopened proving a new sense of potential for the local community from the decomposed and neglected pub that not too long ago stood in its place.
Having National Heritage Lottery Funded, the project aims to provide more than just restoration works. Having been in a state of disrepair for many years the Fellowship was a shell of its former glory, previously hosting music nights from the likes of Fleetwood Mac and being home to boxing legend Henry Cooper. The restoration works aim to take the Fellowship back to being a key part of the Bellingham area and providing a hub for all. Ash was committed to engaging with the local community on this site, using local supply chains and taking on a few apprentices from the surrounding area. Following on from Ash’s Commitment to employ locally, now open the venue employs almost 100% of its staff from Lewisham with around 70% being Bellingham residents.
The upper two floors of the build will be used by Lewisham Music, providing office space, music practice rooms and recording studios All of the music practice rooms and recording studios have been fully soundproofed to provide the best environment possible for budding local musicians to hone their talents. These floors were previously lodging rooms for the Inn and care has been taken to preserve original features they hosted to restore the building as close to its former appearance as possible. For example, in a few of the office spaces, two doors lead into the one room, as when used as lodging there would be the option of having a curtain down the middle to divide a family room for two independent guests, so they would each have a private entrance. Although now somewhat redundant, keeping both original doors was essential in carrying out a refurbishment that was as sympathetic as possible to the heritage of the building.
A key feature specified by the client was for the whole building to be wheelchair accessible. In installing the lift shaft, part of the original roof had to be risen by a few centimetres. Great care was taken in replicating the new roof peak as close to the original as possible as it has to look seamless on the external of the building. As can be seen in the image (replicated peak on the right, original on the left) no difference can be seen between the original external of the building and the Ash made replica peak. Beams that were taken out of the roof in this process were then repurposed and used in the street-facing bay windows of the pub area where the original panels were beyond repair.
Under the new ownership of Electric Start Group, the pub, function room, café and cinema will now operate under the name of Fellowship and Star.
The upper ground floor with Front Street facing access hosts the main bar area and function room. In the main bar area, the ceiling wallpaper had to all be ripped out as it was beyond repair, before this we matched new samples to the original so the final bar would be as close to the original as possible.
All original wood features were maintained wherever possible, including in the main bar area. However, lots of wood features have sadly been damaged by rot and other issues, such as the panelling in the main hallway and various doors. Ash carpenters worked carefully to restore as much as possible and seamlessly incorporated new panelling where the existing couldn’t be restored. For example, the bottom half of the door pictured had to be removed due to rot and replaced, although sourcing a new door entirely would have been easier, our sympathetic restoration works ensure as many as possible original features (or parts of) would be maintained.
The function room which long served our site manager as an oversized office can host up to 150 guests. The main change in this room is the new skylight. Although previously the room hosted a skylight the windows were so damaged it had little to no impact. The new skylight floods the room with natural light allowing you to see the fully restored bar area in all its glory, as with the main bar, all efforts were made to restore what could be kept of the original features. The function room will act as a live music venue with lots of acts already lined up to flow in the heritage of artists who previously graced the stage at the Fellowship. The new owners have also committed the space to be used in off-peak times free of charge by local community groups.
The lower ground floor has street level access at the rear of the building and hosts the cinema, kitchen, coffee shop, brewery room and storage. Although not currently in operation Ash has fully installed all the functions to use one of the downstairs rooms as a brewery, which hopefully one day will be making a Bellingham homebrew. The fully fitted stainless steel kitchen will service both the main bar and coffee shop areas along with fulfilling any requirements for the cinema and function room. The coffee shop will provide a more tranquil space than the bar above, with a capacity of just under 90, for visitors to relax and catch up with friends.
The cinema’s transformation has arguably been the most significant thorough the whole build. From an unused room in an extreme state of disrepair, it has been transformed into a great space for locals to enjoy. With a 90 person capacity, the cinema hosts a state of the art big-screen viewing experience for visitors. New chairs were designed with the old in mind to replicate the design of the room as close as possible (but of course, making them more comfy along the way), and samples of the old chairs have been restored and are on display at the back of the room to remind visitors of the building's heritage.