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Darwen Aldridge Community Academy

Darwen, UK


project overview

The vehicle for social change and prioritisation of student wellbeing

Located in the heart of the town centre, The Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (DACA) is an excellent example of regeneration through vision, location, design and use.

The 1600-place academy is a place where children can realise their full potential and use the specialism of Social Entrepreneurship as the vehicle to enable this. As the first project undertaken by the Aldridge Foundation, DACA was the start of much needed social change in education and a shift in priorities to focus on improving life chances of young people. It has been a driver for change, allowing the Foundation to go on to establish more education environments with the aim of realising every child’s potential regardless of background.



The beginning of town centre regeneration

Raising the aspirations and opportunities for all students was top priority for the Local Authority. Taking the first step to kickstarting the regeneration of the town centre, creating a gateway for change by relocating from the outskirts of the town and bringing education to the forefront in Darwen for the first time. It was important that the perception of education in the local area was changed and could help residents understand the value it could bring to the town.

The wider context for the project was to create a benchmark for the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme which was to follow. The project was an opportunity to test ideas and help to define what learning might look like for the next generation.

The staff and students needed to feel highly valued in the new building, as they enter the building they feel as though a significant investment has been made in their future. The building increases their expectations of the environment they work in and help raise aspirations for the kind of career path people may want to follow.

Linked to the Foundation’s vision of helping every child realise their full potential was the co-location of a centre for social entrepreneurship, a series of business incubator units were integrated into the project giving young entrepreneurs the chance to establish their own business in a nurturing and supportive environment.


Design Concept

Triangular form driven by challenging topography

Integrated into the fabric of the town, the academy creates a benchmark education environment bringing together innovative new ways of teaching and learning. A typical Lancashire town on a steeply sloping valley, the site topography was a strong driving force behind our design approach, informing the building form, scale, massing and internal layout.

Whilst being a compact town centre site, the site still had to deliver a full school curriculum. Conceived as a simple triangular volume it uses the 21m slope to open up access to the town across five levels providing stunning views and reinforcing the two-way dialogue between the Academy and the town.

Atrium spaces were created on two sides of the building, each set at different levels responding to the topography and linked as a series of spaces which navigate through the heart of the building. Whilst giving students a sense of ownership to particular parts of the building rather than it being treated as just a series of departments with circulation between.

The spirits are lifted the moment you enter the school into a large space bathed with light with open views offered. The idea of open views also led to the location of the business incubation pods right at the front of building where they could be celebrated and be seen to be succeeding from both inside the building and from the wider Darwen community.

The building is iconic and the strongest symbol of regeneration of Darwen. The impact on improving students’ attitude and motivation has been incredible. We have an environment which marries the worlds of business and education.”

Brendan Loughran

Principal, Darwen Aldridge Community Academy


Encouraging entrepreneurship through a ‘non-traditional’ school setting

It was vital that the academy would shift away from a traditional school typology, instead feeling like a mature setting for learning. This feeling was to go beyond the students and impact upon staff too, encouraging innovation through teaching as much as learning.

The design moved significantly beyond addressing the function of all these facilities, considering both the contribution into the wider school and community. The organisation is very simple with more formal learning spaces, such as classrooms and laboratories, placed on the outside where they enjoy natural light and views out.

The larger space run through the centre of the building, connecting the different levels and shared spaces such as house bases, libraries and breakout areas to link between the formal and informal.

Unique to DACA, and in support of its specialism, is the provision of an ‘entrepreneurship bridge’ containing business incubator units available to anyone in the local community interested in starting their own business.


Key information

Project summary


Darwen, BB3 3HD


Department for Education






BREEAM Very Good


13,560 m2


1,200 11-16 pupil spaces
400 post 16 spaces


BCSE Best of British Schools Award 2011
- Sponsor of the Year

Roses Design Awards 2011
- Education Building of the Year

Roses Design Awards 2011
- Architecture Grand Prix

BCSE Best of British Schools Award 2011
Highly Commended
- Excellence in Design

WAN Awards 2011

RIBA North West Awards 2011


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