Helen Cooke

Senior Associate Architect

Helen’s volunteer work as a school governor, chairing the Finance and Asset Management Committee, has given her a unique view on how schools are managed and how they deliver first class education.

Helen is an experienced architect with a passion for providing inspiring and innovative school design. She has worked on many projects from feasibility to completion and particularly enjoys engaging with the end users, always trying to get the most out of a brief and budget. Alongside her role at Stride Treglown, she tutors architecture students at UWE Bristol.

If you weren’t in this career, what would you be?

I’d love to research quantum physics at CERN. Imagine being able to investigate how the world works with all those amazingly clever minds around you!

What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on to date?

My favourite project in recent years would have to be St John’s C of E Primary School. We converted a former Victorian police station in Bristol into an infant school. It was a tricky site with historical existing buildings and a huge level change. The idea for the internal arrangement of the building and how to connect the old and new actually came to me whilst I was sleeping! It took a lot of effort to get this project designed, approved and constructed, but it was wonderful to see an empty building brought back to life. Working in schools is very rewarding, as you are impacting on the very youngest in our society and your design decisions can really enhance their enjoyment of learning.

Interesting fact that nobody knows about you?

I am a published cartoonist/caricaturist. I enjoy regular commissions which can range from illustrating lesson plans for The British Council to painting 45m long murals on the side of a lorry for my local town carnival.

What are the key challenges that affect your sector, or are likely to in the next five years?

It has to be funding. I believe that good design doesn’t have to be expensive, however, budgets for schools are getting more and more challenging. Some standardisation and repetition has helped us achieve great designs for less, but it puts limits on providing those inspirational extras. It is essential that we continue to invest in schools and strive for the very best learning environments for our children.

What is your proudest moment?

About 20 years ago, I worked on a large, mixed-use development in London which was awarded a Secure by Design certificate. On the day of the building’s official opening, a lovely lady told me how the building had changed her life and how happy she was to feel safe in her home again. It helped me realise the positive impact that being an architect can have and how good design can change lives.

Industry bodies:
  • ARB
  • St John’s C of E Primary School – Gold Star for Sustainability, Redland and Cotham Amenities Society