Waltham Forest Council embarks on revitalisation of Vestry House Museum
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Waltham Forest Council embarks on revitalisation of Vestry House Museum
Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest.

LONDON.- Waltham Forest Council has appointed architecture firm Studio Weave to lead on the
£4.5 million revitalisation of Vestry House Museum. Working in consultation with local residents, the project will transform the local history museum into a welcoming heritage destination where visitors can find a place to work, rest and discover the diverse stories of Waltham Forest and its people. The revitalisation will include an enhanced heritage and community offer, improved access, new creative workspaces and a café.

A key part of the Council’s Levelling Up Fund programme to deliver Walthamstow’s ‘Culture for All’ projects and unlock the town centre’s potential as an inclusive, safe and welcoming cultural destination, the work will begin in early 2024 with a planned reopening date for the Museum at the start of 2026.

Transforming Vestry House Museum

Vestry House Museum tells the story of Waltham Forest through its collection of more than 100,000 historical objects and themed displays. It gives a fascinating glimpse into how people lived and worked, and how the borough has changed over time. Highlights include the famous Bremer Car, a Victorian parlour, toy collections, a photo archive and a beautiful volunteer-run garden.

Situated in Walthamstow Village, the building was constructed in 1730 to house the parish workhouse and was later used as a police station, an armoury, a builders’ merchants and a private home. In 1931 the building opened to the public as a local history museum. Vestry House Museum is seen as a hidden gem, much loved by regular visitors but not presently used to its full potential. The eighteenth-century Grade-II listed building is also the home of the borough’s archives and local studies library, open to the public by appointment.

The revitalisation programme aims to make Vestry House Museum more dynamic, accessible and inclusive, with a culture and heritage offer that more fully reflects the borough’s diversity. Improvements to the site will increase the accessibility and environmental sustainability of the building and its operations.

The Culture & Destinations Team is working closely with a Community Advisory Panel and Local History Group on plans for new heritage and community programmes, building on research and consultation undertaken by architecture collective Assemble in 2022. The groups are now exploring options for community curation and heritage hubs across the borough and enhancing the archive’s holdings from communities that are currently under- represented.

With the relocation of museum storage offsite, the project aims to improve the accessibility of Vestry House Museum, provide flexible spaces for creative workspace and hire, and explore options for flexible spaces for community curation and programming, along with heritage hubs across the borough. The project will also deliver an enhanced education and skills offer for local young people.

The appointment of Studio Weave

Following an open tender process, Studio Weave was selected for its sensitive understanding of the architectural and social context of Vestry House Museum and its track record in cultural and heritage settings. The practice has recently completed the Lea Bridge Library and Friendship Gardens project for Waltham Forest, winner of a New London Architecture award for culture. Vestry House Museum builds on Studio Weave’s successful portfolio of public and community engagement works across the UK.

Studio Weave’s role is to redefine the building and gardens with an enhanced heritage and community offer and to create new creative workspaces and a café. The project will also improve access and upgrade the environmental sustainability and energy efficiency of the site.

Eddie Blake, Director, Studio Weave said: “Waltham Forest investing in the arts at a time when elsewhere funding is limited and culture is struggling – this is both essential and a great thing to be involved in. Vestry House Museum is a great opportunity to lead a talented local team in delivering an important architectural project that will improve access to the borough’s culture and historic archives, whilst expanding the use of the building to attract a wider audience. Studio Weave is proud to be working on such a significant building.”

Councillor Ros Doré, Cabinet Commissioner for Culture, LB Waltham Forest said: “We are thrilled to be working with Studio Weave on the revitalisation of Vestry House Museum. Their work on Lea Bridge Library shows they have the sensitivity and expertise to work with us to bring new life to this important historic asset, making it more accessible, inclusive and exciting for all the borough’s residents to enjoy.”

A new collaborative community model

The revitalisation of Vestry House Museum is supported by £4.5m from the borough’s Levelling Up Fund (including £800,000 match funding from Waltham Forest Council). Once fully operational, Vestry House Museum will welcome more visitor numbers, up to 80,000 per year, deliver an enhanced learning and training programme for up to 60 school visits annually, and provide 60 training and employment opportunities for local young people. It will also support the local economy through the provision of creative workspace.

Vestry House Museum will establish a new collaborative and sustainable operational model once it reopens. During the design phase, the council will be seeking an operator through a competitive process to run the site.

The archives and local studies library will move to a larger and more accessible space in nearby Walthamstow Library in early 2024 and the Vestry House Museum site will close in readiness for the capital project early in January 2024. The revitalised museum will reopen in early 2026.

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