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London’s new historic Living Green Visitor Centre

Caroline Pankhurst, co-ordinator of the National Trust’s Livinggreen project, describes the transformation of unused buildings at Morden Hall Park through the use of innovative sustainable building technologies, to provide a new visitor centre and sustainable living exhibition, recently opened to the public.

Morden Hall Park, already a green oasis in a densely populated area of south west London, has just become even greener. On 5 November 2011 the National Trust opened a new Living Green Visitor Centre in the Park.

Morden Hall Park stable yardThe refurbished stable yard at Morden Hall Park, with three types of solar panels (photo courtesy National Trust)

The centre is the culmination of the first phase of an exciting 2-year project to transform the park’s semi-derelict stable yard into a vibrant new visitor centre, combining the highest standards of restoration work with the latest energy-efficient technology. Supported by a £990,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, with additional support from European-funding, the project will provide a demonstration centre for those wanting to learn about sustainable technologies, and continue in its second year to provide a range of exciting volunteer, apprenticeship and education activities for people of all ages.

The £2.5 million project brings a key area of Morden Hall Park back to life. The local community has been heavily involved and the newly restored Victorian stable-block is expected to be the most energy-efficient historic building in the country.

It is part of the Livinggreen partnership of five different European countries receiving INTERREG IVB funding from the European Union – all five countries are carrying out eco-renovation projects and sharing best practice with each other, as well as with their own communities.

The Living Green centre at Morden Hall Park houses a permanent, interactive exhibition about sustainable green living and renewable energy, a temporary exhibition area (the first of which is about the Film Star parties which were held in the Park in the 1940s), National Trust offices, craft stalls for local artists and a small café.

Child playing with eco dollChild playing with eco doll at the Living Green centre (photo courtesy National Trust)

Using leading sustainable technologies

The restored stable buildings are themselves an exemplar of sustainable renovation in an historic environment. They utilise three different types of solar panels, one of which is designed to blend in with the original roof tiles, an air source heat pump, a wood burning stove, six types of insulation (from cork to hemp to Spacetherm), intelligent membrane (to achieve a high standard of air tightness), MgO board instead of gypsum plasterboard, lime plaster, triple glazed doors, double glazing in the original windows and underfloor heating using recycled crushed brick plates. Giant rainwater harvesting tanks beneath the stable yard floor collect water to flush the toilets (except in one very innovative toilet, which has the wash basin built into the cistern). Recycled and natural materials have been used wherever possible, for example, glass collected in the Park has been made into beautiful toilet vanity tops, and the café chairs are each made from 111 recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles.

A BREEAM “Excellent” rating is expected to be announced in the near future, a great achievement for a historic building.

National Trust property manager Zoë Colbeck explains the aim of the project:

“Incorporating energy-saving materials and devices into modern buildings is now common practice, but older buildings present many different challenges, especially when they are listed or in a conservation area. This pioneering project has given us a unique opportunity to restore our 19th century building in a way that meets the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

“The Living Green centre will be a source of ideas, information and inspiration to anyone who has an old home or building to renovate or maintain. We want to show people that green living can be incorporated sympathetically into historic buildings, and it can also be fun.”

Demonstrating best practice

The Living Green Centre has been designed not only to be energy-efficient but also to demonstrate best practice – among home owners, builders, architects, businesses, urban designers, council planners etc. Tours of the renovation works have taken place regularly throughout the last year of building developments, and weekend “taster day” workshops have been held for members of the public to find out more about each of the green technologies. The National Trust is currently working closely with the London Borough of Merton and the Merton Chamber of Commerce to promote the Centre to their staff and members, so that learning from the Centre can be shared as widely as possible, and innovative energy-saving technologies replicated elsewhere. Drop-in advice sessions are being held in the Centre, in partnership with local environmental charity, Sustainable Merton.

The coming months will also see the installation of an Archimedes Screw, a low head micro hydroelectric turbine in the River Wandle which flows through the Park – the first of its kind in London. The turbine will contribute further to the Park’s energy needs (providing 63,000 kWh each year), enabling the National Trust at Morden Hall Park to become totally self-sufficient.

Visiting the Living Green Centre

The Living Green exhibition is open to the public every day and entry is free; the café and craft stalls are open at weekends. Tours of the building for small groups can be arranged.

The Living Green Centre can be reached easily by sustainable means of transport – it is close to tube, tram and bus, and a Sustrans cycle route runs right past it. Find directions here…

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