Blog: SECBE Awards 2023 Finalist Royal Sussex County Hospitals Grade-II listed chapel by DBR Southern

05 April 2023

Conservation & Regeneration sponsored by Unilin Insulation

The redevelopment and redeployment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital’s grade-II listed chapel (submitted by DBR Southern)

Conservation and Regeneration Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2023 finalist

Brighton-based DBR (Southern) Limited is one of the UK’s most-respected conservation contractors, with a longstanding reputation for the repair and restoration of historic ecclesiastical assets.

In May 2021, DBR was brought onto one of the most difficult projects in the company’s 33-year history, as part of the highly-publicised 3T’s (Trauma, Teaching, and Tertiary Care) project, a core component of Royal Sussex County Hospital’s ongoing redevelopment programme.

Working alongside Laing O’Rourke (lead contractor), McBains (construction consultancy), Cerowski Architects (architects), and SFK (structural engineer), DBR was tasked with the careful dismantling, reassembly, and redeployment of a 165-year-old, Grade-II listed chapel. Originally sitting within the hospital’s soon-to-be-demolished Barry Building, 350 m2 of historic fabric needed to be carefully moved within the hospital’s new state-of-the-art clinical facilities with a turn-key delivery.

Completed in September 2022, the construction journey was a fascinating one, and tested the expertise of DBR’s specialist craftspeople across a variety of disciplines, including stonemasonry, joinery, plasterwork, and cleaning.

The upfront logistical challenge was, whilst the chapel had to be moved from its original location to the new site within a live hospital environment, the interiors would have to be repaired at an offsite location and skilfully reconstructed into a purpose-designed three-storey concrete superstructure.  

With only a 50mm tolerance to work around within the new site, this process would require the ultimate level of precision. It led to the implementation of cutting-edge digital tools to guarantee flawless execution. Their use to overcome these immediate challenges not only shows the limits of the naked eye to achieve mm-accurate results but demonstrates its importance to defect reduction. In fact, in this case, these systems were integral to the project’s success, spotting a potential error early on and preventing expense rework. 

DBR’s team then undertook the holistic restoration of every component and feature within the chapel. Certain elements, particularly the plasterwork, needed to be reconstructed from scratch, with salvaged detailing meticulously repositioned for a seamless finish. Likewise, the ornate stained-glass windows required specialised attention and were sent to experts Lincolnshire Stained-Glass for full restoration before being carefully reinstalled.

Ensuring faultless wiring and HVAC was also crucial. M&E Contractor RES provided expert consultancy and was indispensable in the connection and operation of a series of lightboxes, positioned behind the glasswork within the steel and blockwork frame. These compensate for the lack of natural light within the new location, mimicking daylight pouring into the space, and simulating dawn through dusk. 

Aside from the sheer task of dismantling the fabric of the chapel and seamlessly moving it from one site to another, and flawlessly reassembling it, is the high levels of collaboration on the project. All stakeholder parties involved pooled their considerable skills to overcome a rare set of challenges, delivering exceptional results within tight deadlines and a live environment.

Testament to the degree of finesse is that most visitors to the chapel for the first time will have no idea it has been physically moved from one site to another. 

Key achievements:

  • A unique turnkey solution which blended traditional and blended methods to deliver exceptional results.

  • Achieving mm-accuracy through the use of digital technology to ensure no errors or deflection.

  • A project completed on-time, on budget against the challenging and unusual circumstances of a working hospital during COVID restrictions.

Client: DBR Southern

Project Partners: Laing O’Rourke, McBains, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, Lincolnshire Stained Glass, SFK

Learn more about DBR Southern:





Find out who wins at the Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2023 Ceremony on Thurs 29th June 2023.

About the Conservation & Regeneration (sponsored by Unilin Insulation):  

The conservation or rehabilitation of old or historic buildings and sites is often an important part of neighbourhood revitalisation, providing physical and psychological focus for the community and creating jobs and investment opportunities. Construction work that involves the conservation and regeneration of historic buildings requires great care and specialist skills and techniques.  More info.

>> Find out more about the other Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2023 finalists here

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