Regeneration: Suntrap Forest Centre




Suntrap (as it has always been known) was designed by Thomas Cutler in 1894 and built on the site of the former Fairmead House “lunatic asylum” run by Dr Matthew Allen.

Following the reorganisation of London boroughs in 1965 demand for field trips to the forest was growing as schools in Chingford and Leytonstone wanted the same opportunity for their classes.

During 1966 it was proposed that Waltham Forest Education Committee in conjunction with the Field Studies Council and with the full support of the Superintendent, Alfred Qvist should use a “purpose built” new field centre on the Jubilee Retreat site provided by the City of London – plans were even drawn up. Then in late 1966 the Borough of Walthamstow was offered a gift, the old Suntrap Hospital.

In June 1967 the London Borough of Walthamstow bought Suntrap from the Misses Brenton for the princely sum of £500. Ken Hoy became the first Head of Centre and all field study visits from Waltham Forest were now based at the Suntrap site.

What is planned?

A £4.1 million improvement programme has been agreed by Waltham Forest Council which includes:

  • Refurbishment and extension of the Victorian building which currently includes four classrooms.
  • A new outdoor classroom and multi-functional space, with a water harvesting roof, inspired by surrounding trees.
  • 20 sustainably-heated, wooden camping pods to sleep four children or adults each. These will replace canvas tents and are designed to maintain a close to nature feeling and allow for residential trips through all seasons.
  • A new camping pavilion to provide multi-purpose catering and dining facilities with integrated toilets, showers and lockers. Seating up to 80 people, the space will expand into natural seating around a central camp fire.
  • The whole site designed to be fully accessible by wheelchair users
  • Sustainable energy sources introduced wherever possible.

Also proposed for the site, when funds become available, is a small gallery to display historical artefacts and rotating nature-themed works of local artists, sculptors and young people which would provide a lasting legacy from the Borough of Culture for this site. Sponsorship is being sought from local businesses for the gallery.

During the closure, staff and some of the animals kept at the centre will be on the road visiting schools and community events such as the London Wildlife Festival to talk about the new facilities and the opportunities they will bring as well as offering outdoor learning sessions in school grounds and local green spaces.

Details of Suntrap on tour can be found here:

When Suntrap reopens in April 2020 the aim is to have an expanded offer of art and other cultural activities as well as the science, geography and wider curriculum activities already offered at the centre. 

There will be year-round camping in the new wooden pods and more evening, weekend and school holiday programmes so young people, families and the wider public can come along and enjoy time in the forest.

What happens when?

  • November 2018: funding agreed for the renovation project
  • July 2019: work starts on site
  • Spring 2020: work is completed

Suntrap on Tour

While the renovation work is taking place the Suntrap Centre team will be running a roadshow across the borough including at libraries:

Library Natural Heritage workshop 10am to 12 noon
Meet the animals 10am to  12 noon

Walthamstow E17 7JN - Monday 2 September 2019 and Saturday 19 October 2019

Hale End E4 9QD - Monday 28 October 2019 and Saturday 21 December 2019

Chingford E4 7EN - Monday 6 January 2020 and Saturday 15 February 2020

Leytonstone E11 1HG - Monday 24 February 2020 and Saturday 4 April 2020

These free to attend events are sponsored by Great Place: Creative Connections scheme, funded by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund


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