Walthamstow Wetlands visitor centre by Stirling Prize-winning architects gets the go-ahead with Heritage Lottery Funding

Walthamstow Wetlands, an exemplar urban wetland reserve created from ten reservoirs at the heart of the Lea valley, will soon become a reality after securing Heritage Lottery funding.

Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann, will sensitively transform a Victorian pumping station and an early 19th century mill on the site, into a new visitor centre and viewing platform – providing breath-taking views out over the natural expanse. Walthamstow Wetlands reserve is designed by award-winning Kinnear Landscape Architects on a site owned and operated by Thames Water, which will continue to be fully functional and provide fresh drinking water for the capital.

Waltham Forest Council’s scheme will see Kinnear Landscape Architects’ proposals open up the operational reservoirs to create a 200 hectare site of semi-wild water landscape and preserved natural habit for nature enthusiasts to enjoy. The site is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on account of its national importance to migratory and wintering waterbirds, particularly shoveler and gadwall – but also breeding grey heron, cormorant and tufted duck. It is also hoped that the extended and enriched reed beds along the reservoir edges, will attract one of Britain’s rarest birds, the bittern.

Pedestrians and cyclists will access this unparalleled urban oasis by a boardwalk along the old River Lea. A generous pathway through the middle of the site connects the wetlands to strategic routes through the middle of the Lea Valley, linking to the SSSI at Walthamstow Marshes and the Olympic Park to the south. The project builds on the momentum established by the Olympics, extending the chain of open spaces further up the valley.

As they showed in their Stirling Prize-winning transformation of Astley Castle, Witherford Watson Mann are experts in re-imagining historic structures for contemporary life. At Walthamstow, they will adapt the existing listed infrastructure buildings for public use.

Close by the main entrance, the Marine Engine House – a decommissioned Victorian pumping station – will be repaired and upgraded as the new wetlands visitor centre. The original engine rooms will be re-used for temporary exhibitions and learning, with a new exhibition gallery and viewing terrace inserted within the 12 metre tall triple engine room. The café will enjoy views south across the picturesque reservoir number one, to the wooded island at its centre.

The visitor centre will act as a hub, connecting the network of paths and walks, serving as a place to rest and be refreshed, or to learn more about this complex, rich meeting of city and nature. A new brickwork tower will be constructed on the original chimney plinth to provide a habitat for swifts and bats – marking the transformation of the site from infrastructure to ecology.

Along the central pathway lies the early 19th Century Grade II Listed mill building, the Coppermill. This historic building will host a new viewing platform within its Victorian Italianate chimney, helping visitors to understand their place within the landscape.

By securing Heritage Lottery funding, and with planning consent already granted, Waltham Forest Council can now get work underway to bring the Walthamstow Wetlands project to fruition. It will become a sustainable and integral part of the social, cultural, economic and environmental life of the local area.

Managed by London Wildlife Trust, the reserve will be preserved for future generations to access and enjoy, creating new opportunities to learn about nature conservation and water sustainability. The project is part funded and led by Waltham Forest Council, and supported by funding from partners including Thames Water, Greater London Authority and the Environment Agency.

Chris Robbins, Waltham Forest Council Leader said:

“We’re absolutely delighted at the news that we have secured the £4.4million of funding to make the Walthamstow Wetlands project a reality. This is something we have put an awful lot of work into over many years and to see it finally coming to fruition is very gratifying. Not only will it be another fantastic addition to the borough and something I am sure our residents will make the most of, it will also open up access across the Wetland site to neighbouring boroughs and beyond.”