Kew Gardens to demolish cafe to build state-of-the-art site to attract more school visits

Inside the learning centre that will be built at Kew Gardens, Kew, Richmond upon Thames
Inside the learning centre that will be built at Kew Gardens, Kew, Richmond upon Thames -Credit:Hazle McCormack Young LLP

Kew Gardens will expand its education offer by opening a state-of-the-art learning centre to boost visits from secondary schools. White Peaks cafe, which shut in 2021, will be demolished to make way for the new facility at the world-famous botanical gardens after the plans were approved by Richmond Council.

The learning centre, designed by architects Hazle McCormack Young LLP, will have a seminar hall, gallery, equipped laboratories, learning spaces, offices, toilets and a garden. It will reach up to two storeys tall.

Planning documents said learning activities at Kew are currently based in a museum unsuitable for delivering the organisation's latest learning programmes and goals. The documents added Kew has 'relatively few indoor learning spaces when compared to other comparable organisations' like the British Museum and Science Museum, given the size of its onsite learning programmes.

The learning centre will allow Kew to expand its education offer for all ages with specially-designed learning spaces for early years, school groups of all ages, adults and community and access groups. It will provide Kew with more indoor space to expand the learning programmes it offers onsite, while it will be able to livestream plant science lessons to pupils and teachers across the world. The public will be able to visit the seminar hall for presentations and workshops in the evenings and at off-peak times.

The benefits provided by the learning centre will help Kew to achieve priorities in its manifesto for change, including encouraging people to protect the environment, training the next generation of experts and extending its reach. The scheme aims to increase the number of secondary school students visiting Kew and inspire them to consider plant and fungal science as a career choice.

James Galpin, partner at Hazle McCormack Young LLP, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the learning centre will be the first purpose-built teaching space at Kew for schools and will feel 'like visiting a university building'. He added it will be at the forefront of sustainability as a 'whole life zero carbon building' by generating 'much more electricity than it uses' to repay any carbon investment, while the team is planning to use only 'grown substances' to build it.

White Peaks cafe, which will be demolished to make way for the development, has been shut since the Family Kitchen and Shop opened at Kew in 2021.

Council officers approved the scheme after ruling in a report it will 'provide larger more modern and sustainably-designed facilities' which will be 'fully accessible to disabled people and those with mobility issues'. The report said the new learning centre will be 'larger and taller' than the existing development on the site, but the public benefits and 'need for the proposal' outweighed this concern.

Further planning documents added the scheme will 'provide a new level of teaching to all ages of students which is not currently possible with the existing site facilities' in an 'exemplar low-energy, high-performance building'.

Work is expected to start on site in autumn and to be completed by March 2026.

An RBG Kew spokesperson told the LDRS: "We hope the first purpose-designed learning centre at Kew Gardens will be a gateway to inspiring the next generation of horticulturists, scientists and custodians of the natural world. This bespoke building will facilitate first-class learning opportunities for a range of audiences, including school groups of all ages, adults, and community and access groups, fostering a passion for plant and fungal science in all who visit."

"What's more, as we strive to create a building that is Passivhaus Plus and whole life zero carbon, the learning centre epitomises Kew's pioneering sustainability ambitions."

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