Old hospital transformed into student flats

Workers refit one of the rooms in the hospital. Picture: Jon Savage
Workers refit one of the rooms in the hospital. Picture: Jon Savage
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A major project to transform a former hospital into modern student accommodation is taking shape.

The redevelopment of Deaconess House, which was more recently used as NHS Lothian headquarters, will become home to more than 300 Edinburgh University students at the start of the 2014-2015 academic year.

The £14.5 million project is a partnership between Mace Real Estate and Edinburgh University.

Although the building is not listed, contractors Graham Construction have been treating it like it is, preserving the striking Pleasance facade which dates from 1894 and repairing the stonework.

The Evening News was given a special preview of the building to see how work is progressing.

While the front of the building was retained, the former library and nurses’ residence was demolished last year.

In their place, three new blocks have been constructed around a central courtyard. Many of the 315 bedrooms are now taking shape – some in five or six-bed apartments and others in studio flats.

In the older section, sloping floors and church windows are a reminder of the building’s previous guises, at one stage as a hospital next door to St Ninian’s Mission.

The windows in the former hospital have been replaced with new sash and case windows to ensure it is in-keeping with its historic character.

Project manager James Henderson said it was difficult for his workers to adapt the older structure to suit modern-day needs.

He said: “You never know what you’re going to get, there are hidden gems.

“There’s a lot of steelwork and support structure that went in that weren’t originally planned. But you get to see a lot of old styles of construction that are no longer used and a couple of tradesmen’s tricks.”

He said that “nothing was rectangular” in the former hospital, meaning that the studio flats have “quirky” features.

He added that one of the major milestones of the project was removing the scaffolding from the facade, which attracted attention from local residents.

“Passers-by started to talk about it and look at it as a building rather than a building site,” he said.

“Now we’ve got furniture and carpets down in some of the rooms, we are getting that feeling that we are getting close to the end.”

The complex will have a communal area with a pool table and seating, while each flat will also have a spacious kitchen and dining area.

New residents will also get to admire one of Edinburgh’s most iconic views – of the Crags and Arthur’s Seat.

A total of 150 workers are currently on the site to complete the project by the 

Mace bought the listed building from NHS Lothian for £4m in 2011 and planning permission was granted in April 2012.

The building was latterly the health authority’s headquarters before it moved to Waverley Gate in 2010. At that point it became surplus to requirements because its ageing structure and poor insulation caused utility bills to soar.

Much needed in poor area

Deaconess House was taken on by the Very Rev Professor A H Charteris, after he launched a scheme for women’s work in the church.

In 1889, St Ninian’s Mission opened to train Deaconesses for missionary work “at home and abroad”.

The Deaconess Hospital was opened in 1894 in a building next to St Ninian’s Mission.

In 1912 as a tribute to Professor Charteris, the Charteris Memorial Church was opened next to the two foundations. The hospital also provided a much needed medical service to the local community in one of the poorest districts of the city.

A number of ancillary buildings including nurses’ accommodation were added to the original structure until its closure as a hospital in 1990 and subsequent use as NHS Lothian headquarters.