The Priory may sound like a place for calm reflection or celebrity detox, but Monahan Blythen’s latest project is in fact a funky playschool for the toddlers of Great Yarmouth

The parish church of St Nicholas supervises the nursery
The parish church of St Nicholas supervises the nursery

The gothic parish church of St Nicholas casts a kindly eye over a new nursery in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk – in more than one sense. Not only does the 14th-century church offer a graceful backdrop to the nursery, but also St Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, happens to be the patron saint of children.

The Priory nursery, which was converted out of an early 20th-century secondary school on the site of a priory, would certainly appeal to Santa himself. Blue and green circles on the external walls make for a bright, playful atmosphere. This is followed through internally in pink, green and yellow corridors.

The child-focused conversion is continued in toddler-height windows, sink units, benches and kitchen units, all purpose-designed by Monahan Blythen Architects. Project architect Malcolm Birks says: “The use of curved partitions helped to break down the institutional feel of the existing buildings.”

The nursery hosts 52 children aged from a few months to four years. Karen Harvey, operations manager for the Great Yarmouth Community Trust, which carried out the conversion, says the children’s response has been positive.

“They’re enjoying the space of the nursery and the bright colours. There is a lot of daylight, and light is very important to them,” says Birks. The bright and uplifting nature of the nursery is particularly welcome in an area that is blighted by extreme deprivation and poverty.

The £750,000 project was funded by a combination of the government’s Sure Start nursery programme, European Objective Two money and the New Opportunities Fund. Further phases are planned to introduce proper playground landscaping and to convert the listed remains of the medieval priory into a centre for training, healthcare and the arts.

In the meantime, the patron saint of children can look on his charges with some confidence.

Project team

client Great Yarmouth Community Trust
architect Monahan Blythen Architects
structural engineer Fordham Johns
services engineer Mendick Waring
quantity surveyor Davis Langdon
main contractor Brock FMD