Cricket legend Graham Gooch has spoken enthusiastically about a plan to transform a decaying Victorian cricket pavilion in Leyton into a miniature version of Borough market.
Waltham Forest Council has just been awarded a £1.5million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to turn Leyton Cricket Pavilion into a real food hub. This funding, generated by people who play the National Lottery, comes as Waltham Forest bids to become London’s first Borough of Culture.
The Grade 2 listed building will house a restaurant, café and training kitchen serving locally sourced food. Meanwhile, the historic tin hut and former dining room on site will become a food market selling local produce.
Mr Gooch, a former England cricketer, who was born in Waltham Forest and played for Essex at Leyton cricket ground, said: “It's good to see Heritage lottery funding for a community project and providing food facilities can only be of benefit to the local people, I hope it's a great success.
“It is so important to create facilities for the people of East London and I'm sure it will be of great benefit to the community. Being born in James Lane Leyton I think it is absolutely fantastic that funding is going to be put into an iconic venue for cricket in inner London. Leyton county ground was the home of Essex cricket in a bygone age and it will be brilliant for it to be restored to its past glories.”
The pavilion was built in 1886 influenced by Tudor and Indian architecture and the tin hut was built ten years later as a dining hall.
Waltham Forest Council leader Cllr Clare Coghill said: “The aim is to revive these dilapidated facilities before they fall into further disrepair. This is a fantastic opportunity to put new life into a place that was a key part of Waltham Forest’s heritage and to turn it into facility that will offer the community the chance to come together to enjoy great food.
“I am really excited that so many work and training opportunities will be offered in an area with high levels of social deprivation and that there will be an emphasis on healthy eating to address high levels of obesity. ”
The site was home to Essex County Cricket Club till 1932 with county games played there until 1977 and the original wickets remaining in place today. Historic victories include Essex’s defeat of Australia by 126 runs in 1899.
Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, said: “Leyton’s historic cricket pavilion is one of only 3 nationally designated buildings in the area, and is in a state of severe and deteriorating decay. We are delighted that National Lottery players are able to support the preservation of this striking building, and provide a hub for the local community, as well as supporting local businesses and boosting the local economy”.
The ground is still used for cricket and football matches today, although half of the pavilion is no longer in use. The team from Waltham Forest Council who worked on the restoration of the William Morris Gallery in Waltham Forest 2012 are behind the HLF funded project.
David Pracy, a retired local studies librarian, who has visited the cricket club since his childhood said: “I am thrilled that the HLF bid has been successful. The pavilion building has always impressed me.
“I get a shiver down my spine when I go there. One on occasion I was offered the chance to go up the stairs at my own risk when I was giving a talk for the Leyton Historical Society. I could not resist. The detail I most remember is seeing the pattern of the cricketers studs on the wood floors. And the view out to the cricket ground was breath-taking.
“What is phenomenal to think it was built in just six months. The building started in autumn 1885 and was complete by spring 1886 for the next cricket season. I am really pleased everyone will be able to go up there and that the building will be brought back to life, as it has been half asleep for too long.
“It is wonderful that this has happened just as Essex won the County Cricket championships for the first time in 25 years.”
Councillor Ahsan Khan, Cabinet Member for Libraries, Arts and Culture at Waltham Forest Council, said: “The cricket pavilion and tin hut are distinct landmarks in Leyton. This lottery funding will enable us to restore the pavilion to its former glory. The first floor and veranda will be brought back to use, giving stunning views over the cricket ground.”
“Many local people told us they thought the site was for private, not public, use, so many did not access the facilities there. When the project is complete there will be many reasons for local people and visitors to come to the buildings - to explore the sporting and community heritage and take part in a range of activities. Residents will be able to learn new skills in the training kitchen and classroom and the café, restaurant and food market will generate income to ensure the site is sustainable.”
Leyton is the most deprived part of Waltham Forest and 10 per cent of its population are unemployed, well above the London average. Project organisers want the community to be involved in the restoration project. There will be scores of full time and part-time jobs, apprenticeships and more than 70 heritage building crafts courses delivered in partnership with the locally-based Building Crafts College. Disadvantaged people, including the unemployed and NEETS (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training), will be invited to sign up for courses in stonemasonry, carpentry and construction.
Leyton has a very young population – with more than a quarter of residents under 18. It also has significant health inequalities, with a very high proportion of obese children and young people. More than a quarter of children aged 10 – 11 are obese, significantly worse than the average for England, and there are a high number of fast food outlets in the area. Through consultations with residents, project managers decided a food based project would be a positive way to connect people and break down cultural barriers.
Councillor Khan said: “Many local people told us that they have been inspired by the project and want to get involved. The improvements to Leyton Sports Ground will bring our communities together to relax, and help residents gain the skills to get them into work, and improve their life chances.
“At a time when childhood obesity is an increasing challenge across London, the project will also work with schools, young people and their families to gain confidence in cooking, and understand better the links between food and wellbeing. This will bring great benefits to the area and is another reason why Waltham Forest is bidding to be the first London Borough of Culture.”
An activity and volunteering programme will bring communities together to celebrate different cultures through heritage, food and sport. Leyton is ethnically diverse, with 80 per cent of residents coming from Eastern Europe or black or minority ethnic communities.
More than 1,000 local people were involved in a consultation with the council and more than 80 per cent supported the idea of a food hub. There was also significant support from the business community from food businesses and local entrepreneurs who want to share their skills and expertise.
The consultation also found that many elderly people had fond memories of being part of a crowd visiting the grounds on match days. Their stories will be recorded as part of an oral history strand.
It is hoped that the cricket World Cup in 2019 will be screened at the pavilion and that cricket matches hosted there will get more attention. The venue, which is right next to Leyton mainline station and a short walk from Leyton underground, will also be used for film production, cooking competitions and weddings.