26 September 2017

Stunning timber music centre makes sweet music

TRADA image

Sunbeams Music Centre, set in the heart of rural Cumbria, is the realisation of a long-held dream for Annie Mawson, a former special needs teacher who set up the musical therapy charity 25 years ago.


Designed by Newcastle-based architects MawsonKerr, this stunning timber building was built using locally felled timber, bringing hope, beauty and a sense of well-being to severely disabled children and adults.


Sunbeams Music Trust provides group music therapy for children with disabilities and special needs, adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia and stroke symptoms, and people injured in car accidents.


While the use of music to improve the well-being and communication skills of those with limited language is still little known, Sunbeams has made great strides in improving quality of life, closer family relationships and a better understanding of the world around them.


Annie founded the charity in 1992, visiting the homes of disabled children and using the soothing melody and rhythm of harp music to draw out language and involvement from those who were otherwise hard to reach.


Discovering that music had the power to transform lives, she expanded the range of instruments and gave concerts to raise funds to grow the charity.  As demand for her services burgeoned, finding a permanent home for Sunbeams became a top priority.


Financial assistance came from an unexpected source when former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney donated a 97-year-old document containing clues to the identity of Eleanor Rigby, which eventually sold at auction for £115,000.


In 2005 Annie enlisted the help of her nephew, then architectural student Will Mawson, who designed the Sunbeams Music Centre as part of his thesis project.


Three years later, Annie found the ideal plot of land, a sloping field with outstanding views over the Lake District with easy access to the M6 motorway. With donations from generous local benefactors, as well as sponsorship raised from bike and fell walking challenges, the building was completed.


Timber was a top priority for the architects, who wanted to create a calm, welcoming, non-institutional environment, to alleviate the anxiety of visitors. Inspired by German philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s approach to musical therapy, they opted for wood - not just for its warmth, beauty and durability - but as an essential element of acoustic control in the internal space.


The Sunbeams Music Centre includes four music therapy rooms, recording studios, an exhibition space to promote the work of the charity and a concert hall for fundraising events.


Its centre has a horn-shaped floor plan, described by the architect as a ‘crescendo’, which was designed to embody musical qualities of rhythm, timbre and melody within the landscape.


The architects sourced local, natural materials where possible, to blend in with the building's rural setting overlooking Ullswater, the second-largest lake in the Lake District.


The opening of this outstanding timber building marks an exciting new era for Annie Mawson, who was awarded an MBE in 2014 for services to the Therapeutic use of Community Music, and the Sunbeams Music Trust, which is now one of the UK’s leading Arts in Health organisations.


Full list of case studies