In the summer of 2019, we shared a Framework Plan for the future of the estate. Developed by design team Studio Egret West, the brief was to review the entire estate and identify opportunities to improve the visitor experience, create new indoor and outdoor destinations, and positively engage with the natural world.
Following feedback from public and partner consultations, discussions with Lewisham planners, and the development of costings, some elements of the Framework Plan were removed and two priority projects identified – one around improving the entrance and visitor facilities, and the other concentrating on visitors’ engagement with nature.
This second project, combining the Natural History Gallery and the Gardens, became known as Nature + Love and it is this project that we will be focusing on over the next few years.
We were delighted to hear in January 2022 that we had received a Stage 1 pass from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), meaning they would fund the development of our Nature + Love concept in more detail. We appointed a brilliant project team and worked hard to develop our concept designs and plans, informed by a wide range of feasibility and viability studies, targeted engagement and consultation, and curatorial research.
In July 2023, we were thrilled to learn the Horniman has been awarded £5.7m by the NLHF. The Horniman is approaching other funding bodies and inviting individual donors to support Nature + Love, which will cost just over £10m in total. It already has a pledge of £1.4m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, a substantial grant of £250,000 from the Foyle Foundation and has raised £200,000 so far from Trustees and a number of generous individual donors.
What is Nature + Love?
Nature + Love is a once-in-a-generation, transformational re-development project aiming to make the Horniman Museum and Gardens more inclusive and accessible, and to place environmental sustainability and a commitment to fighting the climate and ecological emergency at its heart.
A love of nature and time spent in natural environments is a value we all share, and a value that has gained greater significance following the pandemic. As London’s only museum of global nature and culture, the Horniman is in a unique position to engage a wider range of people with its heritage collections and the natural world.
Research shows that appealing to the love of future generations is the most powerful incentive for action in the face of climate anxiety. Supporting and furthering this connection between people and nature underpins Nature + Love. At its heart is the desire to use our visitors’ love for their friends, family, future generations and of the Horniman, to generate a greater love and understanding of our planet.
Nature + Love will enhance the visitor experience and open up previously under-used areas of the Horniman site by creating three exciting new attractions:
- A Nature Explorers Adventure Zone, introducing a nature-themed play area and children’s café, encouraging learning and wellbeing through exploration and play. This zone will also provide a new departure point for improved access to and better interpretation of the Horniman Nature Trail.
- A Sustainable Gardening Zone with new plant nursery and sustainable planting displays encouraging improved health and wellbeing. A horticultural hub will provide a space for community and learning programmes and adjacent to this an under-used part of the garden will be re-developed to improve access and planting.
- A redisplayed Natural History Gallery and indoor Nature Explorers Action Zone, exploring human understanding of and impact upon the planet, and supporting people to make changes on a local and personal level.
These capital works will be complemented by a range of nature-focused partnerships and a programme of activities to diversify our audiences.
Natural History Gallery
One of the key outputs of the Nature + Love project is a redisplayed Natural History Gallery. The new Gallery will retain its historical infrastructure and atmosphere, as well as many of the most popular specimens – such as keeping our famous walrus on open display.
Using the existing collections and new acquisitions, the displays and interpretation will be brought up to date – making them more relevant and accessible to a wider range of people, and referencing human impact on our planet.
We wish to create a Gallery that inspires our visitors to explore and celebrate our love and need for the natural world, instilling a sense of curiosity and wonder and challenging them to take positive action to help preserve the world we all share.
Working closely with the Horniman’s curatorial team, the project’s exhibition designer, Studio MB, has developed a design that seeks to balance the contemporary requirements of museum exhibitions with the sensitive historical context of the Gallery itself.
As the interior of the Gallery is listed, the retention and renovation of as many historical showcases as possible has been a fundamental principle during the design development.
This has led to many of the showcases on the perimeter of the Gallery remaining in place. The creation of a central spine of showcases and interpretation will provide much greater clarity for the entire redisplay which will be grouped in five key themes.
Nature Explorers Action Zone
As part of the Natural History Gallery development, the adjacent Nature Base will be transformed into a Nature Explorers Action Zone with coproduction by local families.
The space will provide a dedicated interactive area for families with children under five. It will be designed to connect young people with nature, instill a sense of curiosity and wonder, and support visitors to take positive actions that are good for nature. The space will be fun, engaging and participatory, with a focus on interactivity and self-directed play.
The space will focus on species that can be found locally to the Horniman. These have been selected by community groups as foxes, bees, robins, grass snakes, butterflies and thistles.
The existing observation beehive will be retained but upgraded to improve life for the bees and visitors’ interpretation of what they can see. The Horniman and community groups are now working with Studio MB to bring the space to life.
The Nature Explorers Action Zone will have links to the outdoor Adventure Zone in the Gardens (see below), drawing links between the indoor and outdoor aspects of the Nature + Love project.
Nature Explorers Adventure Zone
We will create a new outdoor family destination in the Gardens to be enjoyed throughout the seasons, the Nature Explorers Adventure Zone.
The concept for this new attraction, based in and around the old model boating pond below the meadow field, is inspired by the heritage of the Great North Wood – the ancient woodland once covering extensive areas of south London.
The new zone will open up access to our currently hidden and historically significant Nature Trail and establish a new outdoor play area and children’s café – combining each element to encourage improved health and wellbeing and an appreciation of nature through exploration and play.
Landscape architects J&L Gibbons’ designs for a new play area are inspired by nature. The elements will be made of timber and recycled materials, help absorb groundwater, and create rain gardens for sensory play.
A jetty crossing through the play area will integrate opportunities to explore with access for children of all abilities. Natural play opportunities and enhanced planting beneath the existing trees will make most of the sloping ground to enjoy the shade of the trees in the summer months.
Eat, drink and socialise
Designed by Feilden Fowles architects, the children’s café will sit alongside the play area at the northern end of the existing concrete pond area.
Good coffee and healthy menus will be on offer in a relaxed, welcoming environment that enables close proximity to and supervision of children enjoying the nature-based play area. A circular, cantilevering, timber roof will be the distinctive feature of the café building.
The roof will angle upwards to give views of the play area and the meadow field from the seating beneath. Offering both indoor and outdoor seating alongside associated seating and picnicking areas within the footprint of the old model boating pond, the children’s café will offer a vital new facility not only to this area of the site but will also relieve pressure on other busy areas of the Horniman.
Functionally independent and located at the opposite end of the concrete bowl, a smaller pavilion will house toilets, hand-cleaning facilities, baby changing, and equipment storage for Nature Trail learning activities.
Explore and learn
The Horniman’s Nature Trail is currently accessed by steep steps which prevent many visitors from enjoying the space. A key ambition for Nature + Love is to make a new step-free link between the Gardens and the Nature Trail.
Visitors will be able to directly access the Nature Trail through a new gate in the west boundary of the Gardens, close to the Nature Explorers Adventure Zone.
A new sloped path will facilitate easy access and encourage exploration, making the Nature Trail an intrinsic part of the wider Horniman Museum and Gardens estate.
The Nature Trail provides a sanctuary for nature – with hidden habitats of great value that provide ideal places for wildlife to thrive within the urban environment. The lack of intensive management helps attract birds, wildflowers and more elusive mammals that in turn can provide us with a direct contact with nature in the city.
This will be interpreted by new subtle storytelling and information panels. A new management strategy for the Nature Trail will help optimise the ecological value while keeping the area safe for all visitors to enjoy.
Sustainable Gardening Zone
The new Sustainable Gardening Zone, in the currently under-used and steeply sloping South Downs area of the Gardens, has three primary aims:
- to consolidate and modernise the Horniman’s gardening facilities
- to provide a suitable space for community and adult outreach programmes and learning activities
- wherever possible, to improve accessibility to the South Downs area of the site.
A new glasshouse will be located at the top of the site, on the location of the existing greenhouses and hardstanding.
Designed to provide modern facilities that meet the Horniman’s horticulture team’s requirements, it will be heated with a combination of passive solar gains and air source heat pumps.
To the south of the glasshouse will be a new public terrace and external covered canopy. This will provide a fully accessible route around the top of the South Downs; views into the glasshouse and interpretation opportunities; and an external covered canopy space to host a variety of the Horniman’s outreach programmes. The outdoor learning activities will focus on sustainable gardening techniques and there will be a compost area, a wormery and rain water collection.
Accessibility to the area will be improved through the removal of existing uneven concrete paths and their replacement with gentler gradients that provide access to more areas of the South Downs. New planting will provide interest during the winter through coloured stems, bark and foliage texture, winter flowers and fragrance.
A range of consultations and research with key groups has already taken place, and will continue to inform the development and delivery of the Nature + Love project throughout its duration.
A summary of the extensive consultation that has taken place to date:
- Framework Plan exhibition in the Museum and consultation with visitors, partners and stakeholders in 2019 and more recently to include public consultation meetings.
- Access Advisory Group – a long-standing advisory group to the Horniman. Members of the group are chosen with the aim of representing as diverse a range of disabled experience as possible.
- Engagement Advisory Group – a voluntary group comprised of individuals who can offer a strategic overview during the project and provide a knowledge and expertise in areas relating to museum community engagement and audiences.
- Youth Advisory Panel – young people aged 16 – 25 who look in detail at the Horniman’s plans and projects and helps the Horniman think of new ways to involve young people.
- Teacher Consultation Groups – new ways of consulting with teachers have been trialled throughout the Development Phase of the project, with onsite and outreach sessions, focus groups, and gatherings of teachers specialising in similar or mixed Key Stages and/or subjects.
- Subject Specialist Advisors – subject specialists and academics with a range of knowledge and expertise across areas of gallery theme content such as zoology, environmentalism / ecomuseology, palaeontology, animal trade networks, history of natural history, and colonialism.
- Critical friends – advice and guidance from those with expertise in decolonising practice and environmental engagement.
- Public and neighbours – focussed feedback and suggestions from visitors and neighbours on specific aspects of the projects. Activities have included hearing from Gallery visitors about how to display the walrus, and walking the Nature Trail with those who have gardens backing onto it.
- Non-visiting audiences – in-depth consultation with non-visitors on a wide range of Horniman-related issues, and contributing to the development of the interpretation and digital plans for the project.
- Digital Feasibility Study – involving a range of visitors and non-visitors to establish an approach to digital interpretation that would best meet the project’s audience aims. The report recommended a set of principles for the use of digital technologies which are now being applied.
Proposed next steps for project delivery:
- July 2023 – decision on planning permission and NLHF funding
- January 2024 – parts of the Natural History Gallery start to close
- June 2024 – All capital works begin and public fundraising campaign launches
- Summer 2025 – New outdoor spaces open to the public
- Spring 2026 – Natural History Gallery and Nature Explorers Action Zone open to the public. Public events programme across all new spaces begins
- March 2027 – Public events programming associated with the redevelopment ends