Spencer Mill

Transforming a derelict former mill into a community arts space

  • AJ100 Community Impact of the Year 2022

Purcell’s transformation of Spencer Mill has succeeded in converting a derelict building into a vibrant local theatre and multi-purpose space.  

Purchased by local performing arts charity Viva, Spencer Mill has been transformed into the organisation’s permanent home and means of income generation, simultaneously acting as a hub for the community and connecting the people of Soham to their town’s industrial past. 

The Spencer Mill project in Soham, Cambridgeshire, has taken an abandoned former mill building and converted it into a theatre and multi-use space for a local community performing arts charity, Viva. The late 19th century mill building is typical of what was once a large collection of mill buildings in the area, reflecting the once vibrant local industry. Since then, the mill has served various purposes; in recent years, its abandonment has led to more anti-social uses. 

The mill was purchased by Viva, whose vision was to transform the mill into a theatre and multi-purpose venue, providing the charity with a permanent home and means of income generation.The completed project has transformed the mill building, making it a focal point for the arts within the local community.

The original mill building has been made a focal point within the scheme, providingthe main double-height auditorium space. Here, the audience can enjoy a performance within the exposed walls of the original mill,demonstratingthe unique historic nature of the building. At the original second floor level, a social space has been created below the exposed roof structure to provideinterval drinks and act as a stand-along rentable space. A new staircase and lift core sit at one end of the original mill building, allowing visitors to process up and around the original grain hoist which was uncovered during the demolition work. 

To the north and south, two ‘black box’ extensions are enveloped in corrugated black sheet metal, acknowledging the surrounding architectural aesthetic of agricultural sheds. To the south, a two-storey extension provides a new foyer and welfare facilities. To the north, a raised height single-storey extension provides back-of-house facilities. Externally, the former rough hardstanding has been replaced by a sustainably drained gravel parking area with surrounding landscaping. The theatre welcomed its first audience in January 2022, to great excitement.  

“Transforming Spencer Mill from a derelict eyesore to a buzzing community asset has made a huge impact on the Viva Charity, the community of Soham and beyond...”

— Dan Schumann, local Councillor and Viva founder

The completed project has served to further root Viva into the Soham community and provide greater opportunity for engagement with the arts of the people of the town.