‘Covert’ project brings new life to neglected area

Press Release: 05/09/2016

St Maurice's Covert

New life will be brought to a neglected part of Winchester High Street in a project inspired and funded by Winchester Town Forum.

The project aims to improve the presentation of St Maurice’s Covert and the area around it, making it more attractive as a walking and cycling route.

The Covert is a covered passageway that links the High Street with the Wessex Hotel, Winchester Cathedral and the public toilets at Market Lane. It is sometimes criticised for its poor lighting, the number of commercial bins around it and lack of interpretation of its historic past.

Following a competitive procurement process, urban designers ScottWhitbyStudio from London won the contract to produce a new design scheme.

Over the summer months they have been gathering evidence and information to help shape their proposals. This has included face-to-face interviews with people in the town centre; studying film and CCTV footage of pedestrian patterns around the Covert; inviting Council officers and other stakeholders to contribute their professional opinions; and researching the history of the site of this former church.

Practical tests have included moving the flower stall to the centre of the Covert and filling the space with a pop-up coffee shop.

The next element will be a mini ‘festival’ called Overt Covert from 3pm to 8pm on Thursday 8 September. The afternoon - which ties in with the wider Heritage Open Days programme for Winchester - will include pre-booked tours of the Tower (normally a fire escape for neighbouring Debenhams), exhibition materials about the history of the covert, screenings of some of the footage gathered in this first stage, and a talk and presentation about the designers’ emerging ideas for the Covert. The designers will be on hand to hear feedback from the public and share their impressions.

On Wednesday 21 September, the ScottWhitbyStudio team returns to Winchester to make a full presentation of the developing scheme to the scheduled meeting of Winchester Town Forum. Members of the public are welcome to attend from 6.30pm in the Walton Suite, Guildhall Winchester. Exhibition materials and a 3D-model will be on display outside the Walton Suite from 4pm, with a further chance to talk to the designers between 4.30pm and 5.30pm that day.

From Thursday 22 September to Sunday 25 September, the exhibition will be in Winchester Tourist Information Centre on the ground floor of the Guildhall. Although it will be unmanned, staff will be happy to collect feedback for the designers.

Cllr Anne Weir, Chair of Winchester Town Forum, said:

Town Forum members have been very impressed by the thorough and thoughtful approach of the ScottWhitbyStudio team. Right from the start, they have been keen to talk to as many people as possible: they believe that this space in the middle of our city deserves a proper place in Winchester’s distinguished street scene. The designers have really got to grips with the many issues that beset the Covert, and have been proactive in testing out the ‘right’ way to deal with these.