Words & pics by Ed King
Delegates from the Locality Convention in Birmingham have been getting a sneak peak at the Eco Hub in Witton Lakes this week, as a national example of energy saving construction and community focused regeneration.
On Wednesday 17 November the first open viewing was held of the renovated Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes, which has had over £1m invested to turn it into a new ‘Eco Hub’ – in a project led by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) after an asset transfer from Birmingham City Council.
A special bus brought representatives in from the conference for a guided tour, before the team behind the development presented the concept and construction of the Eco Hub – with an open Q&A about how to apply similar models to projects nationwide.
Attended by community organisations from across the country, the Locality Convention is the largest community sector event in the year – with delegates looking for inspiration for new concepts, campaigns, and designs.
Anoushka Deighton from the Architectural Heritage Fund told Erdington Local: “I thought it was a really inspirational vision of what you can do when you let a community organisation take over a disused building and turn it into something for the whole community.
“The way they really thought about the construction and made sure that was environmentally friendly was very positive, alongside getting input from local people and using their knowledge.”
Afzal Hussain, WLCA Chief Officer, said: “Today we wanted to showcase what local communities can do practically, on the ground, for themselves, which will make an impact to address the climate crisis – but also really helps people with everyday costs, the costs of living.
“To make the kind of big impact we need both the pledges from governments, and we need things on the ground very practically.
“That’s how change happens, and we think, equally, grass roots action can and will play a huge role in addressing the climate challenges – but also looking at positive and creative ways of bringing people together.
“So, it (environmental awareness) becomes something you do, something you enjoy with your family and friends and have fun doing it. Look at the surroundings here (Witton Lakes), it’s beautiful.
“The delegates are primarily from organisations like WLCA; they are community associations and community trusts, some agencies as well – there are some stakeholders from the combined authority, so it’s important they see this.
“The community organisations will recognise the challenges of managing assets and community buildings, but in many ways they’ve come here because they want to know that it can be done. “
An asset transfer from Birmingham City Council to Witton Lodge Community Association, the transformation of the 100 year old Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes has been designed by Axis Design Architects – using energy saving techniques and materials to reduce its carbon foot print during both the construction and maintenance.
A Wolverhampton based firm, Axis Design Architects have been spearheading ecologically focused construction across the West Midlands – working with local councils and housing associations.
Rob Annable, Director of Axis Design Architects, explained what the driving force behind the Witton Lakes Eco Hub project was: “Sustainability, and the discussion about services and the resources the building will provide in relation to ecology and health and wellbeing.
“So, the building is dubbed the ‘eco hub’ but not just because of architectural construction issues but also because it will be connected to health and wellbeing, and ecology based activities with the landscape here in the park. So, it’s all those topics combined.
“You could look at it as a benchmark, but I would be fairly humble about that in terms of trying to set a realistic benchmark with what’s possible with funding support from an organisation like Witton Lodge Community Association.
“We haven’t tried to construct or build an experimental project that spends a lot of money on brand new, cutting edge technology – the products, the materials, and operational benefits of this project are as much about trying to set a bar that is achievable for other clients, contractors, and the building sector generally.”
Set to open before the end of the year, the Witton Lakes Eco Hub will run a programme of community and ecologically focused activity – building on the work already being done with the Velvet Community Orchard and other community outreach projects from WLCA.
Once finished, the Eco Hub will help local residents find ways to ‘enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles,’ whilst also acting as a social centre.
On the WLCA website, it further states the Eco Hub will ‘also include the creation of a hydro-power facility on the lakes, sustainable food growing, healthy eating, environmental management responsibility and a range of linked, sustainable living options addressed through community engagement, advice, and practical projects.’
Rob Annable added: “We call it ‘the eco hub’, but for me the reason it’s an ‘eco hub’ is for that long list of landscape and environmental based activities being programmed here.
“Yes, the architecture and the construction seek to reduce carbon emissions, through embodied carbon and operational carbon, but its primary benefit will be health and wellbeing issues around environment, landscape, and ecology.”
For more on the Eco Hub from Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/our-projects/environmental-projects/our-environmental-projects
For more on Axis Designs Architects visit www.axisdesignarchitects.com