Sep 19, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Lewes District Council's Big Parks Project

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Lewes District Council's Big Parks Project provides a gateway to exploring the South Downs National Park. The £2.1m community-led project incorporates 30 acres and includes a central activity cafe, children's playgrounds, new cycle paths, skate park and sports facilities.


Funded by Southern Water and Bovis Homes, The Gateway Interpretation Café designed by Kaner Olette Architects recently won the Leisure Category of the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards 2015, and Crofton won the 2015 Constructing Excellence Sustainability award category for London and the South East, for its role in the project.

In response to public feedback and the design team’s aspirations, this project is designed to educate and be enjoyed by all sections of the community, using a mix of highly visible renewable energy technology and durable low-maintenance construction materials.

The cafe also reflects and embraces its natural and historic surroundings. By using the existing footprint of the building, it meant that disturbance of existing archaeology was avoided. The archeological interpretation inside really sets the scene for visitors to the park and the large windows frame a beautiful view of the downs.

Long-term economic viability

The Gateway Café – previously an old Groundsmans maintenance building – is the Big Park’s main visitor attraction and its long-term economic viability is key to the client’s vision and success of the project.

Even with a tight budget, Crofton agreed that integrating sustainable technologies was fundamental to meeting the project targets and these were given priority during the value engineering process.

Both the M&E and architectural solutions ensure the cafe benefits from low running costs, energy efficiency and longevity and incorporates: a biomass boiler, fuelled with locally sourced pellets – a key visual feature to support learning, PV panels, a solar panel, LED lighting and solar shading with external canopies.

The original structure is externally insulated and over-clad with locally sourced sweet chestnut – a naturally durable, fast-growing, replaceable timber that optimises the natural thermal mass in the high-density masonry. All materials were chosen to not only reduce the carbon footprint of the construction process, but for their durability, reduced maintenance costs and potential for recycling.

Learning opportunities

Shaun Barkshire, the Crofton engineer in charge of the project, commented: “The project provided good learning opportunities for the whole team and Crofton ensured that a junior engineer played an important role in delivering the project, developing experience and skills for the future. Representatives from other councils are visiting Big Parks to understand how to build similar sustainable schemes and acknowledge that it is a considerable achievement for Lewes District Council.

Councillor Andy Smith, Lead Member and Project Board Chair at Lewes District Council, said: “The fact that an incredible 5000 people attended Big Parks opening earlier this year further demonstrates the overall success of the project that involved many people.

“We worked closely with the whole team at Crofton Design and Kaner Olette Architects to produce a cafe that is attractive, benefits from low running costs, is energy efficient and has longevity built into it. The award is recognition for all involved in an outstanding community facility,” Smith continued.

Retrofit excellent

The cafe has an EPC rating grade A. This grade is given to buildings achieving 0 – 25 points (the lower the better) – the cafe was awarded just 10 points. This is impressive for a retrofitted building, which would typically achieve a B rating, and is a testament to the integration of sustainable design and renewable energy technology with the original structure.

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