Hainault Forest is a 225-hectare SSSI on the edge of London and one of the last remnants of the Forest of Essex that once covered hundreds of square miles of south east England. The Hainault Ancient Forest focused on the restoration of the SSSI and the development of a regional attraction that supported the site becoming financially self-sustaining over a 5 year period.  

Client and Contract Period

Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure


Project Objectives

Vision Redbridge, the Woodland Trust, and English Heritage submitted a bid to redevelop, renovate, and repurpose the 19th century farm buildings located in Hainault Ancient Forest and surrounding its woodland and grassland. The goal was to develop a unique place that celebrates the history of the forest and its heritage and offer opportunities to learn about the history and functionality of the SSSI, while also offering health, wellbeing and employment opportunities to the surrounding members of the public.

The project is focusing on the restoration of the SSSI and a transformation of its current status as a site in recovery. In parallel, the project will focus on the development of sub-regional visitor attraction focused on restored Victorian farm buildings and an upgraded model farm offering a variety of educational, play, catering and retail opportunities targeted at enhancing the ‘dwell time’ of visitors.  

 Arkwood submitted funding applications to the NLHF and the GLA in December 2018 and grants of £4.5 million and £1.2 million were secured.

 Arkwood acted as Lead Consultant, leading a design team including Thomas Ford and Partners, Huntley Cartwright, Bob Costello Associates, ZMMA, Place Services and Webb Yates. 

Issues Challenged and Outcomes

Three sections of the Forest of Essex are of specific historical significance. The forests of Hatfield, Epping and Hainault were once all royal hunting grounds and administered under Forest Law from the 11th century. In 1851, an Act of Parliament ‘dis-forested’ Hainault and over the ensuing years, over 10,000 trees were removed from the forest. The pioneering conservationist Edward North Buxton purchased significant areas of the forest in the latter quarter of the 19th century and site was opened as a public park in 1906. 

One of the main focuses of the project was conservation of the forest being an SSSI, while also attempting to make the barn buildings and playground feel more cohesive with the surrounding space. This was achieved by having a visitor centre with an interactive exhibition for education on the surrounding ancient woodland tailored for children and families, while also constructing and designing a modern eco-build playground with wood to match the surroundings. The public space was in much need of a renovation and has been resurfaced, while creating a community and commercial hub on the site with a better expressed entrance to the main barns for events, which are now a hive of activity with smaller scale independent retail and commercial units, craft studios and culinary and drinking opportunities.

Additionally, we wanted the types of animals at the on-site zoo to be the types of animals that would have previously been grazed on the site, when it was previously an active farm. We also worked with the national lottery heritage fund to renovate this space, focusing on the heritage of the site.

Another part of this project was working intensively with local authorities to consider new ways to assess the values of green infrastructure, while developing CNCAs for local councils and new greenspace strategies that consider radical new approaches to funding and governance and restoring the SSSI to UKWAS standards.  

  • Lead Consultant 
  • Landscape Design 
  • Landscape masterplanning 
  • Technical design 
  • Research 
  • Consultation and engagement 
Video going into detail about the project