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Castleward Spencer Academy

Project value: £7.6m

Client satisfaction: 10/10

Considerate Constructors Scheme: 40/50

Social value generated: £3,013,554.80

Local labour within 40 miles: 82%

Local spend within 20 miles: 67%

Number of apprentices: 5

SME spend: £3.5m

SME engagement: 94%

The school will be vital in transforming the regeneration of an inner-city area into a thriving community.”

Cllr Evonne Williams

Derby City Council’s cabinet member for children, young people, and skills

An innovative new primary school, delivered on a small brownfield inner-city centre site.

Derby City Council have committed a £100m investment to the local area of Castleward in Derby. Through Section 106 agreements, the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, Homes England, and Derby City Council have embarked upon a major regeneration with approximately 1,000 new homes. As a result, Morgan Sindall Construction teamed up with SCAPE's inhouse architectural practice, Lungfish Architects, to design and build a new 1.5 FE primary school to supplement the increase in population for this exciting new community.

Delivered through SCAPE Construction, the new school provides 315 additional school places and a 39-place nursery for Derby City Council, and has helped generate over £3m in social value investment. With 81% spent locally and within 40 miles of the scheme, it has wholly involved the local community and region.


Forming part of a £100m housing-led regeneration scheme, Castleward Spencer Academy will become the hub for the new community, attracting young families back into the city centre.

Complementing the heritage of the local area, close to the train station, the school was constructed using traditional construction techniques and features a brick exterior. In addition, the building sits back from the boundary, to appear unobtrusive to the existing neighbouring buildings and new homes, and to the young pupils when entering the school.

With the majority of funding coming from the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, Homes England, Derby City Council and Section 106 agreements, completion was required by August 2021 ahead of the new academic year. Work began during the summer of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic however, with careful collaboration with all stakeholders and speedy procurement through the SCAPE Construction framework, the project was completed on budget, defect free, and one week ahead of the programme.

With 1,000 new homes being built, identifying an appropriate site to build the new school was crucial. Located just outside a busy city centre and a brief walk from Derby train station, the project location inevitably meant the space to build the school was going to be minimal. A brownfield site, previously used as a car park, provided an effective solution. The site is a small, 5,200m² development area - almost half the size than that usually required for a school, which significantly influenced the logistics strategy and required an innovative design approach to meet the educational requirements.

As part of the extensive groundworks process, there was a pre-commencement planning condition which required an archaeological investigation to take place. The investigation was planned to be completed over a period of 8 days during the enabling works on site. However, during the initial works, there were some items of interest that had been uncovered and as a result Trent and Peak (in co-ordination with Derby City Council) requested that additional investigation works be completed to various areas of the site. A team of four archaeologists were on site for just over 4 weeks completing further investigation works. Despite the additional time required, the investigation was completed just before the piling works were due to commence.

Close collaboration in the pre-construction phase was required to ensure a successful build of the project. By holding various collaborative planning workshops with key stakeholders, we were able to minimise disruption to the local area using Morgan Sindall's 1K Strategy, a plan that extensively identifies, mitigates then improves the impact of the project within a 1km ring of the site.

The restrictive nature of the site significantly influenced the design of the school. Using this as a catalyst for creativity, Lungfish Architects incorporated a combination of one and two-storey blocks, and clever rooftop play areas that have two-metre-high parapets to keep children safe. This approach to the design allows for the school to achieve more outdoor recreational space than the site would have traditionally allowed; whilst also squeezing in a multi-purpose games facility for active play.

Whilst the safety of children upon the roof was paramount, the city-centre location of the school meant extra precautions were necessary to safety-proof the whole site. The design and position of the building has been devised to optimise use of the land for the school and provide a clear, visible main entrance and secure line of sight to the building. Existing fencing and established hedgerows have been retained and enhanced to ensure a secure perimeter, with pedestrian access separated from vehicular access, minimising risk at drop-off and pick-up times.

Castleward Spencer Academy is a contemporary building that, through sympathetic design, complements the heritage of the local area. Delivered ahead of schedule, defect free, and to budget, the project generated over £3m of social value, whilst scoring 10/10 for customer satisfaction. The new primary school meets the needs of the growing community, has allowed Derby City Council to increase its school places and will create an attractive new community hub for everyone to use, cementing itself as an integral cog for the future.

The city centre location meant that it was key for the project to encourage a refreshing learning environment for the children. The new school features 12 classrooms that are spacious and ventilated to ensure optimal learning. The building has a very open and spacious feel, most notably in the hall which is designed as a lightwell that rises to the full height of the building; helping gather more sunlight into the building and flooding the heart of the school with natural light. The wealth of natural light plays a pivotal role in helping the children feel more connected to the outdoor environment, and it is aided by the use of colours that emulate the feeling of nature and further stimulate cognitive benefits.

Utilising the rooftops as an extension to the external hard play area, not only addresses the compact nature of the site, but it also creates a sense of progression through a child’s school life. It is intended that infants will have use and access to the first-floor play deck, with junior pupils use of the second-floor play space. This allows the school to achieve the necessary outside space required and reduces the impact of having smaller sports facilities. Additionally, in order to maximise the efficiency of the school’s recreational space, the landscaping features a multi-use games area which will facilitate the playing of team games.

What Castleward proves is that school construction should challenge the status quo – even when faced with a brownfield, tight city-centre site. Creative designs can still overcome any challenge and deliver a spacious, light, and inspiring environment for students to learn.

Site size needn’t compromise the children’s learning environment, and Castleward demonstrates this. Even though we were working with a space half the size, we’ve created a one-and-a-half form school that has the needs of the children at heart. Regeneration and maximising space in city centres is important. Not compromising on a child’s education is vital."

Craig Taylor

Director | Lungfish Architects

We are delighted to be welcoming the first pupils to our newest primary school at Castleward. Its state-of-the-art design features such as the flexible use of space, the innovative outdoor play area and the security of a sprinkler system offer a superb environment for learning. The school will be vital in transforming the regeneration of an inner-city area into a thriving community.”

Cllr Evonne Williams

Derby City Council’s cabinet member for children, young people, and skills




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