It is not everyday we receive a commission to design a land based Navy ship, however we’re excited to be working with the Sutton Coldfield unit of the Sea Cadets to design their new ship building. The existing facility, pictured below, was built in 1952 based on ‘HMS Sutton’, a WW1 Hunt-class minesweeper which after many years of service is now due to be replaced.

Of the eight ships one will be named ‘HMS Birmingham’ which the new cadets facility will mirror as a land based version. This will provide a new unit base for the Sea Cadets and Royal Marines Cadets and include the re-design of the external site areas with a parade space, dinghy storage, and external classroom facilities, all based around the existing boat storage buildings that are to remain. The ship building will also provide a new facility for local events and functions, reinforcing the links the sea cadets have with the local community of Sutton Coldfield. 

The new building will be modelled on the Type 26 frigate (Global Combat Ship) eight of which are being constructed for the Royal Navy at BAE Systems' Govan and Scotstoun yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow. Additional ships are also to be built for the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Canadian Navy.

Designing a building to replicate a ship is challenging and the feasibility stage design work explored how this could be realised. There is the obvious need for buildings appearance to reflect that of the real frigate, as much as feasible, but also how to satisfy the client’s spatial and use requirements. To meet this the design needs to allow a range of activities for the cadet unit, future proof the long term goals of the facility, plus accommodate the wider community use as project intends to serve as an assist to the local area. 

The site location is important in regarding its position in Sutton Park, with the immediate surrounding area a designated National Nature Reserve (NNR) as well as the west of the site being of Local importance to Nature Conservation (SLINC). The proposed design locates the new ship building to the east rear portion of the site, in the similar location to the current ship to be demolished. In doing so this addresses the existing boat storage buildings to be retained and also minimises disturbance to the wider site. As the design is developed the proposals will need to sensitively address both the historic and nature conservation site context.

Budget constraints are always particularly challenging with such a project and the Sea Cadets are currently undertaking stockholder meetings as they push to facilitate funding to allow the design to be developed and become a step closer to reality.

The project is to be completed in advance of the 2022 Commonwealth Games to be hosted in the West Midlands, where the new cadets building will support the Sutton Park venue being used for the games.

As a local practice with a keen interest in community projects we are eager to get started on the design work for this one-off ‘building’ and are looking forward to the unique design challenges this will involve.

Sea Cadets is a self funded charity based on naval values, providing both ashore and afloat activities and adventure and qualifications and aim to guide children in to young adulthood. If you would like to find out more or are able to support raising funds for the new facility and community project please contact the Sea Cadets direct on or visit