Transforming an East London industrial site into community-owned natural swimming ponds and a biodiverse park
Who are we and what do we want to do?
We’re a diverse group of people with one thing in common: we’re passionate about enhancing the environment and ensuring that as many people as possible, from all walks of life, can enjoy nature as we do.
We’ve come together to realise our vision for land that used to be filter beds providing clean drinking water to the people of East London. We want this concrete-covered depot to, once more, play its part in supporting the health and well-being of the local community.
The landowner has identified the site for disposal. We need your support to raise £1 million through crowdfunding to help us buy the site. We are raising the remaining funds we need through corporate donations and grant funding.
We will then transform the industrial site into a new biodiverse park, home to the first public swimming ponds in the UK to be cleaned naturally by reeds and aquatic plants. Our plans also include community spaces and a forest school space.
• You will be able to swim for free all year round in rainwater cleaned by reed beds and aquatic plants.
• You will be able to meet people and develop ideas in beautiful and truly affordable community spaces.
• You will be able to give different aspects of sustainable living a go.
• And your children will be able to learn with nature in a forest school space, becoming resilient, independent and creative young people in amongst the trees and in the sunshine and the rain.
The 5.68-hectare Thames Water Depot on the border of Hackney and Waltham Forest is Metropolitan Open Land, a fenced-in slab of concrete in a sea of green. It is currently owned by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and managed by LocatED, the Department for Education’s arms-length property company. Planning permission for two free schools was rejected and now a new plan for the site is needed. We believe its only possible future is as a park, owned by the community for the community, with the filter beds that used to supply clean drinking water to London providing a public benefit once more.
We have started conversations with LocatED about purchasing the site, and now need your support to buy the land for the community.
What are the benefits of the project?
The project will deliver mental and physical health, environmental, learning and economic benefits to our community.
Having access to green and blue spaces makes people mentally healthier according to a significant body of academic research, and we will be creating a brand-new place for people to immerse themselves in nature. We will be creating the first permanent public natural swimming ponds in the UK to be filled by rainwater and cleaned naturally by reeds and aquatic plants, providing the people of Waltham Forest and Hackney with a safe place to experience the joy and myriad health benefits of wild swimming. It will be a wonderful place to walk, swim and hang out, listen to the birds and watch the bees.
Sustainability, decarbonisation and enhancing the natural environment are central to East London Waterworks Park. Bringing back open water and returning the site to nature will do wonders for biodiversity (creating new habitats for wildlife) and air quality (with more trees to clean the air). The site will also operate as a circular economy (reducing waste by reusing, repairing and recycling materials) and generate its own renewable energy (generating solar power from solar panels and hydropower from the river).
Learning is at the heart of the project. We are local residents learning as we dream East London Waterworks Park into existence. We're sharing the journey together, inspiring collaboration and community ownership. When the park becomes a reality, we will help people relearn how to live in harmony with nature, establish a forest school space and open community spaces for site-specific learning about wildlife, habitats and conserving our natural resources.
Rewilding and opening up this fenced-in concrete depot in the middle of a swathe of green space will reconnect the lower Lea Valley. It will also showcase an environment-first community-led approach to land ownership that will transform the way we think about green spaces in cities. It will empower people to believe they can make change happen, that they too can turn an unloved piece of land into a wildlife haven.
The story so far
We have already received significant backing for the project. We completed our first crowdfunding campaign in 2021 and our fundraising goal was matched by a generous donor, giving us the funds we needed to develop our vision for the site.
We commissioned Expedition Engineering to conduct a pre-feasibility study and they have confirmed our plans are achievable. The report is available here.
We have established inclusivity principles with input from social sector organisations and community groups to ensure that everybody feels welcome in and around the project and the park itself is designed to welcome everybody. You can take a look at our research here.
We have also developed the first iteration of our business plan. It demonstrates how the project will deliver more than £16.24 million in social value, a figure that has been calculated by the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of East London using the Construction Industry Research and Information Association's B£ST Tool. You can read the business plan here; we will be updating it as the project develops.
We must raise £3 million within the next year before we miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
With your support, we can raise £1 million directly through crowdfunding. If we can achieve this, we have every reason to believe it will unlock further funding of £2 million from corporate donations and grant funding.
By supporting this campaign you will be contributing to the fund that will enable the community to purchase the land and create a new park, a place you will be able to visit with your friends and family. As a token of our appreciation, we have created a range of optional rewards. You can claim a reward and register your donation for Gift Aid. You can also donate without a reward too.
Are there any risks? How will your money be used?
As with all brownfield sites, there is ground contamination to deal with. Existing evidence suggests the problem is not insurmountable, with the levels of contamination typical of a brownfield site in inner London. Our plan with advice from Expedition Engineering is to carry out further investigation, with a flexible design and timetable, to include decontamination to ensure a safe site. You can read more in Expedition Engineering’s pre-feasibility report here.
The landowner wants to dispose of the site. Now we have to back up our offer with cash and we are fundraising from many sources. Our Crowdfunder campaign is our initial marker in the sand: to demonstrate the community is behind the vision and together we can raise the money. If East London Waterworks fails to purchase the land as planned, your donation will be used to support relevant, local projects in accordance with our charitable objects. If we raise more than enough to purchase the land, we will use any surplus generated to support the costs of transformation and operation of the Park for the community.
Who are we?
East London Waterworks Park is a charitable company (Company Number 13154915) and a charity (Charity Number 1199414) in England and Wales. It currently has fourteen members and over thirty volunteers, most of whom are local residents from Hackney and Waltham Forest. To ensure the company is owned by the community, a clear pathway to membership has been established, centring on active involvement in the day-to-day activities of the project.
We are a sociocratic organisation and decisions are made according to sociocratic principles of governance. This means work is carried out by groups called ‘circles’ and circles make decisions by consent, ensuring issues are worked through collaboratively. There are currently six circles each at work on different elements of the project. The work of the circles is managed by a parent circle, the hub. To find out more about how we’re organised or if you’d like to join one or more of the circles, drop us a note at [email protected]
We want to demonstrate that, working together as a community, we can build a healthy, sustainable future. This aim is echoed in countless international, national, regional and local policies, and the project has in-principle support from the Mayor of London, Waltham Forest Council and a wide range of national charities, local organisations and individuals:
More detail on the plan
The focus of this phase of our work is to purchase the site.
Once we have acquired the site, we will prepare it. Enabling works will take place, including breaking up and repurposing much of the concrete and establishing the swimming ponds. These big structural changes will require a working environment that is unsafe for the general public but, once they are completed, we will welcome volunteers to continue the transformation of the site, including creating habitats and retrofitting the buildings.
Once operational, it is essential that East London Waterworks Park has a sustainable long-term business model if it is to achieve its long-term goals. Although at this stage we are still working out what the annual cost of running the park will be, we have a number of strategies to ensure the core functions will be self-financing and not reliant on grant funding or regular crowdfunding.
• The site will be designed to minimise ongoing costs.
• The site will be owned and managed by the community. It is likely that key positions of responsibility will be paid-for roles, but much of the day-to-day work delivering the core functions will be carried out by teams of volunteers.
• Income-generating aspects of the project, such as the accommodation and the cafe, will operate as distinct social enterprises that financially contribute to the core functions.
• Specific programmes, that operate in addition to the core functions, will be financed independently.
These strategies will be developed and stress-tested as the project develops, and we are currently working on Version 2 of our business plan which will go into more detail.
" I crossed the bridge into the park with my children, feeling joyful. It’s been a few years, but I can still remember the high fence topped with forbidding spikes and all the concrete. There’s still plenty of concrete, of course, but a lot of it has been broken up and it’s now home to bees and other more unusual critters. The new trees we planted are growing well, their new leaves shining in the sunshine. In a few years, they’ll be big enough for birdboxes and I’m looking forward to deciding where they’ll go and attaching them to the tree trunks.
The migrating birds are back. We spent a marvellous day here last summer, learning to recognise a few of them. There was a bird expert on-site and she lent us her binoculars, helped us record birdsong and told us about the mind-boggling journeys the birds had taken to reach us.
Today, it’s warm and we’re going for a swim. The water is cool and clean. It’s so clever, the way plants can clean rainwater and make it safe to swim in. Every dip is different. Sometimes we share the ponds with butterflies and dragonflies, sometimes with ducks and tadpoles. And we’ve seen the water beetles that thrive here, through a microscope in one of the labs in the engine sheds. Life isn’t always easy, but we always feel welcome here."
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to maximise the use and value of the land to provide educational, economic, health and environmental benefits for our community.
Together we can develop a sustainable good-news story that delivers on a significant number of the government’s strategic policies.
Together we can build back better, taking real steps to tackle the climate crisis, biodiversity collapse, social inequality and social isolation.
We hope we have inspired you to join and support us to make this amazing project happen.
Thank you for reading and thank you to all the amazing volunteers who have helped us get this far.