The heritage and history of our headquarters

Our headquarters, The Groundwork Environment Centre, is a Grade II Listed building (listed 23rd January 1973 – listed number 388936) on Shaw Road in the Higginshaw area of Oldham. The building has served the Oldham community for over 100 years and continues to be a base for learning and training.

The Groundwork Environment Centre

First Life

The building originally began life as a school run by the King Street United Methodist Free Church. The Church began their connection with Higginshaw in 1862, however, by 1866 a school/chapel was built on Shaw Road which, after completion of the new chapel in 1869, then it became a day school in 1870.

In 1870 the first Elementary Education Act was passed which stipulated that there should be in every school district a sufficient amount of accommodation in public elementary schools for all children resident in that district. The duty of enforcing this regulation was charged upon a School Board to be elected in the district concerned. If the voluntary bodies such as the National and British schools failed to provide the necessary school places and suitable accommodation within a stipulated period, the School Board was empowered to build new elementary schools, the cost supplemented by a rate. Oldham School Board was established in 1871, Royton in 1879 and Chadderton in 1893. They were responsible for the assembly of what became known as “Board Schools”.

The School at Higginshaw proved to be too small and following the building being condemned by the Education Department in August 1893 a plot of land adjoining the site was leased from the Church trustees.

Expansion & Evolution

The Foundation Stones of Higginshaw School were laid on 12th October 1895 and the School was rebuilt for 850 pupils using the local firm of architects Winder and Taylor and was opened on 11th September 1897. Then Oldham School Board purchased the shop, cottages and land next to the school for an additional building /extension and a new building was opened in 1903 (the Board School).

It later became an Elementary School before becoming a Secondary Modern in 1945, and was then converted to a Primary School in 1965.


The records including log books and photographs from the period 1874 to the closure of the School in July 1983 are now held by the Oldham Local Studies and Archives. This is firstly under the Oldham School Board records (ref B-SBO), and then under the Higginshaw County Primary School for the period 1937-1983 (ref S39). The building is now the last surviving Oldham Board School.

After the School closed the building was later used as a performing arts centre for a short while. During that time various students passed through its doors, who later went onto careers on the stage and in film, including Jane Horrocks and Sarah Lancashire.

Groundwork’s Involvement

After a few years lying empty and falling into disrepair, Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale took over the running and refurbishment of the building in 1997. The improvement work provided training and experience for local people and the building became the headquarters for the various charitable operations of Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale.

Groundwork has run training courses and community events from the building, now named the Groundwork Environment Centre. This includes volunteer training, construction, IT and training for businesses. The rooms have also been used by partner organisations, community groups and Oldham Council for meetings, consultations and other events.

Architectural Narrative

The building is described as being brick with stone and terracotta dressings and Welsh slate roof with ridge creating 2 storeys with attic, 12 window main range with two parallel rear wings. The outer bays of the main range are advanced with steep pavilion roofs. Inner doorways and rounded arched lower windows have white terracotta banded voussoirs and stone stills. Scrolled pedimented heads to doors and outer windows interpret the frieze above. Upper windows in outer bays are also round-headed with white terracotta keystones and moulded jambs and string course. They are divided by semi-octagonal pilasters sprung from corbels which continue across the parapet above. Central round-arched dormer window has a steep scrolled pedimented head and pierced parapet between the outer pinnacles.

Environment Centre pla1

The central section is divided into 3 main bays by semi-octagonal pilasters above ground floor level. Each bay has 2 squared lower windows and round-arched windows above with moulded terracotta architraves and white terracotta keystones.

Environment Centre plan2

The terracotta frieze above lower storey has low relief strap-work, masks and swags and the words “Board School”. There is a central pedimented gable with terracotta frieze and oculus in scrolled raised panel. There are hipped roofed dormers on each side of the pediment with two swept octagonal lanterns to the roof.

Return elevations each have a 3 window range each side of central pedimented gable, housing the former boys and girls and infant entrances. The brick wall to forecourt on north and west sides has stone copings and banded stone piers. There are cast-iron railings around the front with arrow heads and scrollwork.

Heritage Open Day

As part of Heritage Open Days, we’re inviting ex-students of Higginshaw School and members of the public to come and find out more about the life of the building. You will be able to take part in a guided tour, hear from some of the people who attended the school and learn about the history of the building. The Heritage Open Day event is taking place on Friday 13th September 2013 (1-4pm) at Groundwork Environment Centre, Shaw Road, Oldham, OL1 4AW.

For more information or to register your attendance please contact Stuart Brierley on 0161 624 1444 or email


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