54 years of celebrating, enhancing and safeguarding Halifax's built and natural environment.

HALIFAX CIVIC TRUST AWARDS 2014 David Hanson

There are three awards in this, the 23rd year of the Halifax Civic Trust Awards, which are made annually for high-quality new building, the reuse of older buildings and other environmental improvements to the town and countryside of Halifax.

This year's winner is the Orangebox young people's centre in Thomas Street, Halifax, a dynamic new use for a group of rundown warehouses adjoining the Piece Hall. Two other schemes are highly commended: the large-scale yet sympathetic extension of Salterhebble Junior and Infant School, off Huddersfield Road, Halifax, and the careful restoration of an unusual house, Nether Brea, at Leeds Road, Halifax, which combines 17th-century Halifax vernacular architecture with a a substantial Georgian remodelling in the early 19th century.

Halifax Civic Trust Award: The Orangebox

It may not look much from the outside but the rough 19th-century stone walls of the Orangebox and its timber-clad extension hide an extraordinarily vibrant, dynamic and complex set of spaces aimed at appealing to a hopefully equally vibrant, dynamic and complex audience - the young people of Calderdale.

The Orangebox young people's centre, set against the west wall of the Piece Hall and also bounded by Westgate, Thomas Street and Blackledge, opened in September 2013 in three rather ordinary-looking buildings that formed a rough U shape on three sides of a courtyard, plus that new extension. The older buildings had once been used by fruit and vegetable traders when the Piece Hall was a wholesale food market and, indeed, the name of one of them, "Hellawell Bros, fruit and potato merchants", has been left to adorn the Thomas Street elevation of the centre as  a reminder of the past. More recently the buildings had been used as a store and workshop for the former Piece Hall market and as a museums store.

The centre is part of the nationwide myplace project to build "world-class" facilities for "disengaged" youth, administered by the Big Lottery Fund, part of the National Lottery. By 2011 around 70 myplace projects had been approved for towns and cities in England, including the Halifax scheme, which involved a partnership of local organisations led by the Square Chapel Arts Centre. In 2009 the project was granted £3.9 million by the Big Lottery Fund and the resulting scheme has been informed by comprehensive and wide-ranging consultations, especially with the young people who are to use the Orangebox.

The Orangebox, from market warehouses to young people's centre

As long ago as 2004 the Halifax Streets Ahead report included a proposal by the architect Will Alsop to demolish the buildings and erect a futuristic building containing youth facilities, club and conference centre. The current scheme, by Hebden Bridge architects Studio Baad, aware of sensitivities in the town-centre conservation area which includes the adjoining grade 1-listed Piece Hall, chose specifically not to demolish but to reuse and add to the existing buildings. The result is a triumph of imagination, well-directed function and conservation on a relatively small site which is further restricted by the nature of the existing structures. It is amazing how they have managed to cram so much into such a small space and manage to include the luxury of a large, open, airy "meet and greet" space in a courtyard at the heart of the development.

This space, beneath a glazed-roofed atrium, replaces the courtyard mentioned earlier, bounded by the older buildings on three sides and by a new timber-clad extension, described as looking like a "wooden crate", on what used to be a car park and before that a scrapyard on the southern, Blackledge elevation. Alongside the atrium an internal street runs beside the Piece Hall wall, linking entrances on the north, Westgate, end and the southern Blackledge end. The scheme has been so designed that it will be possible in the future to link the Orangebox with the Piece Hall by knocking through the Piece Hall's western wall.

The scheme promised "world class" youth facilities and the range and quality of the facilities is eyeopening. Facing Blackledge is a cafe and kitchen and behind them, leading to the floor of  the atrium is a wide flight of steps where young people can meet, "hang out" or even give performances. Elsewhere there are as many as five music rehearsal and  recording studios with a "patch through" system that enables recorded music to be played in any room in the centre.

The Orangebox, crowded on the day it opened in September 2013

As part of the extensive range of consultations 2,500 young people were surveyed to ask what they most wanted to see provided at the Orangebox. Top of the list was a cinema, but one was already planned for the new Broad Street Plaza, and second was a bowling alley, but there was already a new bowling centre in Commercial Street. Third was a skate park and this has been provided at the top of the main building where the former pitched roof has been replaced with a "rooftop box" of translucent polycarbonate, anchored by red-painted steelwork. Alongside will be a rooftop garden, where it is hoped that vegetables will be grown for use in the centre's cafe. The Orangebox offers sessions in a wide range of activities, from acting and dance workshops to choral singing, fashion workshops to song-writing and digital music production.

Architecturally what makes the building come alive is the brilliant combination of old and new and a huge palette of materials, also new and existing, from the gnarled old stonework of the original warehouse buildings to the western red cedar "wooden crate" that is the Blackledge extension, from internal stonework such as that facing cleaned-up brick walls across the courtyard floor, from the red-painted steel structure of the roofbox to the "mill steel" walkways, galleries and stairs that mark out many of the circulation routes, and from the polycarbonate rooftop box to the glazing of the atrium roof and new entrances. Everywhere the finishes, the installations and the equipment are designed to the highest standards, from the courtyard paving and the adjoining steps to the hi-tech music rooms, studios and IT suite and even to the high-spec toilets, with fittings finished in an amusing, brilliant orange.

Truly you have to go inside the Orangebox to appreciate what a magnificent addition this old-new building is to the architectural heritage of Halifax. We hope the young people of Calderdale, for whom it has been so brilliantly designed, appreciate it as much as our members did on their recent visit.

Highly commended: Salterhebble Junior and Infant School

Salterhebble School - "a small friendly school", according to its website, has suffered from being too small. Opened in 1906 essentially as four classrooms flanking a central hall, with other ancillary rooms, for years the school has had to cope with insufficient space. Attempts to deal with the problem resulted in a two-classroom extension and a "temporary" detached prefabricated building used by pupils as a dining room and by local groups as a community room.

But it was not enough, as a report to Calderdale Council in 2010 made clear: "The school currently has one classbase fewer than it needs and one of the existing classbases is only three quarters of the size it needs to be. Two other classbases are of awkward shape and the school hall is far too small. Learning resource areas and administration accommodation are also undersized. Being located in an attic room, the staffroom is not fully accessible. Further deficiencies include no dedicated small group room or food technology space and inadequate storage apace."

Salterhebble School's extension - the new harmonises with the old

The answer was to build a major, much-needed extension, with, most importantly, four new classrooms and a new assembly hall. Then the old school was given a complete makeover to bring it up to the standard of the new building alongside - the whole costing £2.1 million.

The task was complicated by the small site facing Stafford Square, which meant that the work had to be carefully planned, and by the fact that the school lies in the Huddersfield Road East Conservation Area, which meant that the design would have to be to a high standard. Consultations involved everyone from staff, pupils and parents to the police and fire brigade.

Because of the restricted size of the site the new building was constructed behind the existing school on the school playground. The old two-classroom extension was demolished, along with old shelters and long-disused toilets which ran the full width of the playground. The prefabricated building was also demolished and the site redeveloped with a new hard play area and an expanded car park. It was decided that the new building should not simply copy the old, yet many features of the new sit very happily with the old. Head teacher Belinda Kerfoot-Roberts was very keen to maintain the roofscape of pitched state roofs and gables, which it does, handsomely. The new building, like the old, uses natural stone but also has contrasting areas of light-coloured render and panels of grey clay blocks. Ashlar stone string courses on the old building have been continued into the new.

Architecturally the school's best new feature is a narrow atrium that links the new with the old. The white-painted steel structure with glazed roof provides natural light and valuable circulation space. At the heart of the new building is the huge school hall, which also doubles as a dining room for lunches and can be used for performances. It's high pitched ceiling and white painted walls make for a light, airy and impressive replacement for the hopelessly inadequate old school hall.

Salterhebble School's head, Belinda Kerfoot-Roberts in the spacious hall

It has four large storage areas for dining tables and a receiving kitchen for school lunches that are cooked elsewhere. The four new classrooms - used by junior age pupils - have ample storage and there are toilets for staff and those with disabilities as well as for girls and boys.

The old building - used for infant-age pupils - has been so comprehensively modernised that once inside it would be hard to tell that it is more than 100 years old. Classrooms have been reconfigured to increase their size, outdated wood panelling removed and parquet floors replaced. The old hall at the centre of the building has been divided into two to create a library and IT suite and a new, spacious staffroom, both with floating ceilings that also let in natural light. The revamp also includes a new medical room, toilets, head teacher's office, reception and other offices. There is also a new community room, to replace the earlier modular building, which can be used independently of the rest of the school with its own entrance, toilets and kitchen. It is used, for example, for the school's breakfast club, after-school club and evening courses. The former twin entrances to the school from Stafford Square have been blocked up and replaced with a single, central entrance, marked by a rather quirky steel and glass canopy.

Staff and pupils are understandably and rightly proud of their new school, as a video presentation on the school's website shows.Not all school building schemes succeed, but this overdue redevelopment does because it works as a harmonious whole. Effectively now there are infant and junior departments, linked by that landmark atrium, providing a light, spacious and attractive learning and working environment for both the school's 208 pupils and more than 30 staff.

Highly commended: Nether Brea,  Lower Brear,  Halifax.

Restoring Nether Brea has been a labour of love for Michael and Josephine Geraghty. They bought the house at auction in 2011 and have been lovingly renovating it ever since. This unusual house, on Leeds Road, between Stump Cross and Hipperholme, is historically important as it was for centuries part of the estate of the Lister's of Shibden Hall and, in fact, was once the home of our famous local diarist, Anne Lister's grandparents. A house existed here in Tudor times and there is evidence of it in star shaped carved into beams which were reused in the kitchen of the present house.

'Old' Nether Brea: mullioned windows in the 17th-century gable end

Essentially, though, the present house is an unusual mixture of styles, based on a typical "Halifax" vernacular with mullioned and transomed windows dating back to the early 17th century - but then partly "modernised" in 1818 in the Georgian style with deep sash windows and much of the interior remodelled. The result today is a large, double-fronted house over two floors, with attics and cellars, with a two-storey wing at the east end and a small, single-storey wing to the east. The main gables and rear remain essentially 17th century, with their distinctive mullioned windows, while the main, south-facing front is clearly later, with deep Georgian sash windows.

The house was sold to Samuel Lister of Shibden Hall in 1638 and it remained the property of the Lister family for three centuries. But in 1818 James Lister let the house to George Robinson, of Hipperholme. Anne Lister recorded in her diary: "In the afternoon went with my uncle and George Robinson to Lower Brea... to see what repairs would be wanted before George  andhis wife could get into the house. Found it in a sad, dirty, forlorn, pulled-to-pieces state. The roof must be taken off £200 laid out - besides a new barn that will cost about £150." The date on the porch of Nether Brea today, and also on the former barn to the property, is 1818, along with the initials JL for James Lister, of Shibden Hall

'New' Nether Brea, modernised in 1818 in the Georgian style

Despite all this history and fascinating architectural development Nether Brea is not listed and whoever bought it in 2011 could have chosen to do pretty well what they wanted with the property. But Michael and Josephine immediately fell in love with it, bought it through their company of utility contractors, M and J Geraghty, and set about a faithful - and expensive - restoration, helped by sons Sean and Jonjo.

For example, blocked 17th-century windows on the west gable were reopened and others restored, replacing the bevelled mullions with new where required and recycling sound originals to windows elsewhere. The kitchen floor, of oak boards, covered with stone flags and concrete and supported by rotten joists, was removed, given a a new support structure and the oak replaced with new. The old oak boards that could be rescued were cleaned up and converted into a new interior kitchen door. Nearby, in the hall, a 17th century door, beside the main Georgian staircase, was restored.

New staircase at Nether Brea, left, made to match the Georgian original

Although there were extensive attics - as evidenced by the survival of servants' bells - there were no floors - or even, mysteriously, a staircase to the attic floor, so Michael installed a new stair made to match the main staircase below in a local Georgian style. All the Georgian windows at the front of the house - as well as two on the 17th-century gable, which had been replaced with modern windows, were given original-style sashes. A deep, two storey mullioned window at the rear of the hall was given stained glass panels, some of them based on motifs found at Shibden Hall.

Of course there was much basic but vital work to do as well. Walls had to be rebuilt and all the floors replaced. All the ceilings apart from two ground-floor survivors had to be renewed and a complete electrical rewiring undertaken. One stretch of exterior wall, at ground level was in such bad shape that it had to be rebuilt to prevent possible collapse.

The total cost of the scheme is around £250,000 and, despite the expense and hard work, Michael and Josephine have no plans to live at Nether Brea. Their family of two sons and two daughters have their own homes and the couple have no need of space offered by the six-bedroomed house, especially as they have already stylishly restored their own home in Gibb Lane, Halifax. At one point they considered turning Nether Brea into a b and b and so made the new attic bedrooms en suite. But they finally decided against that and so the future of Nether Brea, carefully and expensively restored, is up in the air.

Michael and Josephine Geraghty have lovingly restored Nether Brea

One thing Michael is very keen to do is to have the house listed for its historic and architectural interest - an unusual step as listing brings restrictions on what an owner can do in altering his property. But it confirms the Geraghtys' passion for the Nether Brea and also means that their good work could not easily be undone  - and that a fascinating piece of Halifax heritage is retained for future generations.

The first 21 years of awards

54 years of celebrating, enhancing and safeguarding Halifax's built and natural environment.