An inspirational adult learning centre for everyone

Mary Ward Centre

Location Stratford, London
Client Mary Ward Trust

Brief History

AWW has co-created a landmark re-invented new home for the Mary Ward Centre, which reflects and embraces the culture and the needs of both current and future occupants. Thanks to our track record in designing and delivering retro-first projects, AWW was selected to deliver the reinvention of the existing Queensway House to represent the values and ethos that the Mary Ward Centre has built over its 128-year history. With up to 5,500 students passing through its doors a year the Mary Ward Centre needed to expand and saw this as an opportunity to positive engage in a community-led regeneration project.


The retrofit vision was an opportunity to realise Mary Ward’s vision of consolidating the Centre’s sites to create a dynamic community education centre for lifelong learning. The focus to produce learning outcomes that aid individual confidence, self-awareness while promoting learning, empowerment, and social cohesion for all. Representation of the charity’s ethos whilst leaving room for its future development is the vision that acts as the backbone of this project. Another aspect of this is the revitalisation of the external look of the building – creating a strong visual presence that elevates its profile.

Design Intent

Our design ambition was to create a happy domesticity, non-institutional environment to accommodate those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional college space. The revitalised layout fosters a community of building users through dedicated social spaces that enable moments of pause and connection. Flexible breakout areas physically connect the teaching spaces while addressing the street beyond.

Design Delivery

To meet the demands of Mary Ward’s burgeoning student cohort the existing structure had to be enlarged. The alternative to the proposed demolition was to completely replace the external envelope taking an approach that is environmentally driven and focusses on building a strong and recognisable identity – the vibrant theme and colour in the façade which carries through the entire building. The solution was a secondary exo-skeletal structure that fits on the outside along the Stratford High Street elevation. This means that the load of the new structure is taken through the building and to the rear.


The commitment to a design developed under a retrofirst approach drove the resultant greener, healthier and more sustainable space that occupies the site today. Our sustainability efforts for Mary Ward emphasise how it is possible to reduce embodied carbon emissions by repurposing existing concrete structures and minimising new steel usage. Using 65% of the current structure rather than producing a completely new building, cut embodied carbon from 809,932.6 kgCO2e to 283,476.4 kgCO2e – showcasing our dedication to sustainable practices.

User experience

The building has been designed to reflect the client’s core values and to revitalise the identity so that it resonates with the stakeholders. The new, highly legible, civic space is open to all and easily accessible. It includes a café and a restaurant that offer much-needed space to strengthen the sense of community for both staff and visitors.


Collaborating closely with the Mary Ward team, we've ensured the integration of distinctive features from the previous site into the new Stratford building. This reimagined facility not only enhances physical accessibility but also cultivates a welcoming environment conducive to individual growth and, foremost, a safe haven for learning. Our focus throughout this project has been on creating a space where people feel safe and prepared to engage in learning.

Flexibility / Commerciality

Key design drivers included celebrating the building's history through a retrofirst approach, utilising a bold colour palette to ensure legibility and to serve as a visual identifier. Fostering community exposure through strategic layout and fenestration along Stratford High Street. Additionally, we focused on creating flexible breakout areas to encourage social connections among building users while engaging with the broader community.


The strength of the new identity of the façade provides intrigue to the landscape of the area whilst raising the profile of the Mary Ward Centre, hopefully solidifying its place in the new area.


This project provided the perfect opportunity to emphasise the importance of re-using and re-purposing existing buildings and improving them with net zero carbon technologies. In the case of Mary Ward Centre, a sleeve of light weight low carbon new build was pulled over the existing retained carbon intensive structure to add and extend the original structure.

The Mary Ward Centre is an innovative learning environment and community facility. It’s a fantastic example of how the creative re-use of an existing derelict building can help to re-activate the high street and provide real social value to the locality and wider community."

Tim Forster, Sustainability Director

Section Diagram

The building has been conceived to foster a community of building users with the utilisation of social spaces that encourage moments of connection. This is articulated as a series of flexible breakout areas which physically connect the teaching spaces.

Social Value

Stakeholder engagement played a crucial role in the development of the building. This meant that we included staff, students and the wider community in some of the decision-making. Outreach efforts extended to a three-mile radius around the new site, ensuring that the voices of the local community were heard and incorporated into decision-making.

We partnered with a Social Value Consultant (Greengage) to conduct Social Impact Reporting using baseline data and analysis of the areas surrounding both the existing and proposed Mary Ward Centre as a benchmark. The Social Value Impact of the project is calculated using metrics from National TOMs, Wellby and Social Value Bank. We will also be conducting Post Occupancy Evaluations in order to survey the clients and end users.

It was a pleasure hosting AWW architects, the brilliant team behind our new Mary Ward Adult Education Centre and Mary Ward Legal Centre building at Stratford.

Our discussion delved into the profound social value and impact on our community, extending far beyond the building itself. We're excited to witness the ripple effects of this transformation as our cutting-edge building perfectly complements our quirky and open approach.

Heartfelt thanks to AWW for their enduring partnership."

Therese Reinheimer-Jones, Warden (CEO) at Mary Ward Centre