Vestry House Revitalisation Project

Revitalisation of Vestry House Museum – February 2023 Update

Levelling Up Fund Bid Success

Waltham Forest Council is working to revitalise Vestry House Museum, a well-loved cultural and heritage site in Walthamstow Village. In June 2022, the council commissioned design and architecture collective Assemble to develop a set of models for how the Council could improve Vestry House Museum for the benefit of all residents.

On 19 January 2023, the borough heard that it was successful in its bid for Levelling Up funding, which commits over £4million investment into the revitalisation of Vestry House Museum to deliver defined outcomes and benefits. You can read more about the Levelling Up Fund for Waltham Forest here.

We are now inviting those interested in helping to shape the future of the museum and archives to apply to be on the Community Advisory Panel. Applications close on Monday 17 April 2023. For more information and how to apply, visit this page.

Thank you to everyone who joined the Public Engagement Meeting in February 2023. The presentation slides from which are available below:

You can read the public engagement document below:

Vestry House Museum Revitalisation Project FAQs

The following answers to some frequently asked questions have been prepared to provide further information. These FAQs have been updated following the announcement of Levelling Up funding.

1. Is the council closing Vestry House Museum? No. Vestry House Museum will remain open and owned by the council – it will not be closed or sold.  There may be some need to close the museum temporarily to enable the capital investment, but this will be minimised and well-publicised.

2. Can I still access the archive? Yes. An important part of the project is to ensure that the archives and local studies collections are fully accessible, both digitally and in person. The Council is currently exploring options for the searchroom, archives and local studies collections to be relocated to a new fully accessible site in Waltham Forest, with the aim of diversifying and expanding use by visitors and volunteers.

3. Will the project provide a long-term future for Vestry House Museum? Yes. Securing a long term, sustainable future for this important place is central to the Council’s aims. Financial sustainability is one of the key considerations for the project. Vestry House Museum will remain open and owned by the council – it will not be closed or sold.

4. What is the Vestry House Museum revitalisation project? Vestry House Museum has needed investment and revitalisation for some years. The Council’s priorities in considering new approaches to Vestry House Museum have been driven by the following factors:

  • The Council is seeking ways for Vestry House Museum to have greater social impact, to reach and support more local schools, businesses, and engage our diverse communities
  • The museum collection is in need of updating and does not currently reflect the diversity of our communities in Waltham Forest
  • Much of the building is underused, with 30% used for collection storage and the upper floors are inaccessible to those with mobility issues
  • The Council is seeking ways for the operational model of Vestry House Museum to be more cost effective and provide a greater return on investment

5. Why have you worked with Assemble on the project? In June 2022, following a competitive process, Waltham Forest Council appointed a multi-disciplinary team, led by Assemble, an established architectural practice, to research and consider a range of approaches for a revitalised Vestry House Museum. Assemble reviewed the current operation at Vestry House Museum and prepared various potential models which could be applied to revitalise the site. These took into account feedback from engagement with over 40 groups, individuals and stakeholders. The Assemble commission was completed prior to the outcome of Waltham Forest Council’s application to the Government’s Levelling Up fund.

6. How does Levelling Up Funding affect the project?  On 19 January 2023, £17million of Levelling Up Funding was awarded to Waltham Forest Council to deliver ‘Culture for All’ a programme of capital works to develop and improve a range of cultural sites and cultural spaces in Walthamstow. Within this wider bid, £4.4million (including £800k match funding from the Council) has been allocated to the revitalisation of Vestry House Museum. This Levelling Up funding now enables the Council to realise a new approach for Vestry House Museum, informed by Assemble’s research. This project will include capital improvements to the building, with ambitious goals for increasing the diversity and number of visitors to Vestry House Museum, an enhanced schools offer and improvements to both the museum and archive collections and service.

7. Has a decision already been made on the future direction? No. The proposed new approach will be considered by Cabinet in April 2023. If approved, the council will embark on a tender process to secure a partner organisation(s) to work with the council to deliver a new vision for Vestry House Museum and archives service. 

8. Why is the council seeking cultural partner organisations to be based at Vestry House Museum? We believe that securing the right cultural partners to work with us to revitalise Vestry House Museum will ensure that we can achieve more in terms of public activities, engagement and appreciation of local history. The Council is adopting a partnership approach to several of its cultural sites, following a new approach outlined in the Destinations business plan, agreed in Cabinet on 22 November 2022. After a positive response from an Expressions of Interest process last year, as part of Assemble’s wider research, we are confident that there are a range of organisations keen to work with us to help activate the Museum and develop a dynamic programme. A key aim is to diversify Vestry House Museum audiences and activate the heritage site to its full potential. We anticipate working in close partnership with local history and heritage groups.

9. Will accessibility to Vestry House Museum be improved? Yes. Currently Vestry House Museum is not fully accessible, with no lift access. This project will improve accessibility for all and at the same time maintain and enhance the unique character of the Grade II listed building.

10. How will this project respond to the climate emergency and the current challenges around energy costs? The capital investment will enable improvements to the building’s environmental performance while at the same time maintaining the unique character of the Grade II listed building.

11. How can I get involved, and how will you be engaging with local historical and heritage groups? There will be a range of opportunities to get involved as the revitalisation project gains momentum, which will be updated here. We will be setting up regular meetings with local history and heritage groups alongside establishing a Community Advisory Panel. There is still the opportunity to leave feedback via the online form, where you can also register your interest in joining the new Community Advisory Panel. If you are interested in receiving updates on the project you can sign up for our newsletter here.

12. What is the proposed timeline for the project? A decision on next steps is scheduled to be taken by Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet in April 2023. Dependent on the chosen outcomes, it is likely to take at least 24 months to fully implement the plans.

13. How will you ensure the museum appeals to the widest audience and local history organisations to ensure visitor numbers increase? Bringing our local history up to date and including the past 60 years of life in Waltham Forest in the collection is an essential part of this project.

14. Will the museum collection be reduced or removed? There is a need to reorganise the collection, which is part of this process, and add to it to include the more contemporary lived experiences and cultures of Waltham Forest over the past 60 years or so which is not currently included in the collection. Our goal is to make more of the collection available, as much remains in storage. This will be onsite at Vestry House Museum, online through digitisation and working with partner organisations and spaces across the borough to loan objects for more people to enjoy and learn about the borough’s rich and diverse histories.

15. Will be there any offline engagement meetings and is there a way for people without access to a computer to stay up to date with the revitalisation process? We will be hosting a range of stakeholder and resident meetings both online and in person throughout the process. On-line access is also available through the borough’s libraries. For more information, please sign up for our newsletter here.