Entrance to Essex University library
Independent lift & escalator consultants

Paternoster Lift Refurbishment

ILECS carried out a feasibility study, traffic analysis, and lift modernisation of a distinctive type of lift at the University of Essex. 

What is a paternoster lift?

Paternoster lifts are unique in that they run continuously, formed out of a chain of open compartments that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building. There are only around three paternoster lifts in operation in the UK, with this lift at the University of Essex being one of the few remaining. This particular lift was installed in the 1960s.

Exterior of the University of Essex


The key issue with this paternoster lift was old age - the last modernisation of the lift was undertaken in the 1990s. Due to the lift being in continuous operation over almost 30 years, it had seen a lot of wear and tear, particularly on the gearing. A health and safety assessment of the lift found it to be worn beyond serviceability. It was decided that in the interests of safety, it would be removed from service. This presented the facilities team at Essex University with two options: to either retain the lift and modernise it, or to put another solution in place. ILECS were brought in to provide expert input and to carry out a feasibility study and traffic analysis, and subsequently to modernise the lift following the findings of the feasibility study.


ILECS were commissioned by Essex University to conduct a feasibility study to assess the potential of replacing the paternoster entirely. Part of that study was a traffic simulation to audit the usage of the lift in its current context.

We determined that, in order to put something in place that would have the same passenger carrying capabilities as the current installation, they would need at least three large lifts in the building. This was untenable due to a lack of available space - the building would have required an addition to the outside of the building to incorporate three new lift wells and three externally positioned lifts. The cost, logistics, and interruption to the building involved meant that this was not an option. In addition, the paternoster formed a part of the history of the building, and represented a rare form of heritage lift that meant modernising the paternoster was the optimal solution.

The project also presented a challenge because it fell in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK, so there were periods of time when operations were challenging, with access to site being restricted. Our team ensured that they complied with the latest Government health and safety guidance while being as hands-on with the project as possible to ensure that it progressed as close to the original timescales as possible.

essex university paternoster component
essex university paternoster gearing


This was a very specialist project. Having been phased out as a form of passenger transport during the 70s, there is an ever decreasing number of operational paternosters in the country, and hence a very small pool of knowledge available. The incumbent lift engineers had serviced the paternoster for many years and had gained a considerable level of experience with the equipment during that time. For this reason, they were invited to tender for the modernisation works as the main contractors.

ILECS worked with the client and design team to develop an effective modernisation specification, which included utilising modern technology and design, to improve standards of safety and functionality.

As part of our research, we also visited the only other paternoster lift installed in a UK university in Sheffield, which had also been previously refurbished, to understand how they had managed the challenges associated with modernising a piece of equipment that was, in essence, obsolete.

With so many of the parts and components of the paternoster being of a unique design, additional specialist engineers and suppliers also were called upon throughout the project. All of the large gearing had to be manufactured bespoke, and a specialist gearing manufacturer was brought in to copy the original components and fabricate replacements. The gearing manufacturer occupied a niche where their core components were designed for steam traction engines, which demonstrates just how unusual this project was.

Because of their previous experience, we invited the same controller manufacturer that had been involved in the Sheffield University modernisation some years before, to develop a controller that would incorporate the new signalisation and safety components being introduced as part of the modernised design.

essex university paternoster embark
essex university paternoster user


We ensured that the client could make an informed decision about the options available with the paternoster lift by undertaking the feasibility study at the beginning of the project to determine whether or not an alternative solution would be more cost-effective.

Once a decision had been made to proceed with the modernisation, we ensured that the works resulted in improved standards of health and safety as well as performance. Care was taken to ensure that there was also an emphasis on sustainability, with the modernised design allowing for ease of maintenance and future parts replacement.

David Pickering, the lead consultant on this project, said:

There are only a few paternosters left in the country, and this made any modernisation project a little more challenging, but also a little more special. It was wonderful to be able to preserve this unique piece of engineering heritage and ensure its continued safe and reliable operation into the future.

Learn more about how we can help with specialist lift maintenance and lift refurbishment projects, or give us a call on 01206 399555 to discuss our full range of services, and we’ll be happy to assist.

essex university paternoster signage
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