From East 17 to #Awesomestow – how heritage is transforming communities

Ros Kerslake
As Walthamstow Wetlands opens to the public, HLF Chief Executive Ros Kerslake looks at how National Lottery funding for heritage contributes to health, happiness and wellbeing.

Walthamstow Wetlands opens today.  This wildlife haven, just 15 minutes from central London, will be a wonderful place to visit for walking, bird watching, cycling or somewhere to find some much-need peace and quiet. 

But it’s also so much more than that.  Walthamstow Wetlands is the latest piece in a funding jigsaw that has seen this once down-at-heel London suburb transformed into a thriving destination – and HLF investment of National Lottery funds in heritage has been the engine for change. 

Putting heritage and history at the heart of #Awesomestow

Walthamstow has come a long way in recent years. From being known predominantly as the birthplace of the band East 17, the last 25 years have seen the area grow and change, and it now revels in the nickname ‘Awesomestow’. Much of this change has come about as a result of our support, driving regeneration, improving the natural and built environment, and putting heritage and history at the heart of cultural and economic investment in the area.

Thanks to local ambition, coupled with HLF’s National Lottery investment, Walthamstow is now a destination for lovers of arts, culture and heritage.   Projects we’ve supported have been at the heart of the planning, design and management of public spaces in Walthamstow, and have allowed the Council and local community groups to get maximum value from their local assets.

“Thanks to local ambition, coupled with HLF’s National Lottery investment, Walthamstow is now a destination for lovers of arts, culture and heritage.”

These include the award-winning William Morris Gallery, beautiful Lloyd Park and Walthamstow Wetlands, along with the heritage-led regeneration of St James Street and Walthamstow Market which have inspired the local community and helped create a place that supports people's health, happiness and wellbeing.

Our support has helped local business, encouraged economic growth and investment, and made Walthamstow a cultural, exciting place to live through a strong connection to the area’s history and natural environment.

Reducing wellbeing inequality

Here at HLF we refer to what has happened in Walthamstow as ‘placemaking’, but what does it actually mean?

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing has been looking at the drivers of wellbeing inequality in the UK.  Their 5 October report found access to green space and involvement in heritage are particularly important in reducing wellbeing inequality.

Reducing these inequalities provides a route to better lives and a society in which people can flourish, with improved health and well-being, a buoyant local economy and engaged citizens. At the other end of the scale is social decay with its drain on society, costs to the NHS and local authorities and problems of crime and anti-social behaviour.

“We know that one of the best routes into public engagement in local decision-making is by getting people to think about and engage with the heritage of their community.”

We believe the former can be achieved by investing in heritage – thereby helping to create a sense of place.  We know that one of the best routes into public engagement in local decision-making is by getting people to think about and engage with the heritage of their community.  By encouraging them to think about the past and its links with the present, they are more likely to feel that they have a stake in a better future.  Or another way of putting it: get the community involved and they’ll learn to love, look after and feel part of the place they live.

This might manifest itself in a number of ways: the creation of a friends group to look after the local park; looking after and running community events in the local pub; local film screenings; arts events.  All of these things have happened in Walthamstow and elsewhere. 

And the knock-on effect will be health, happiness, wellbeing, employment, economic prosperity – everybody wins.

Great Place Scheme puts culture at the centre of local plans

If you’re wondering if this is just a London thing, it’s not.  There are towns and cities all over the UK that have invested in heritage and seen the benefits: Belfast, Dundee, Hull, Cardiff, Manchester, Bristol…and many more.  And earlier this year we, along with Arts Council England, invested £15million in 12 pilot Great Place Scheme areas to help them find ways of putting culture at the centre of their local plans.   

Of course none of this would be possible without National Lottery funding, which frequently acts as a catalyst for further investment.  It’s the people who buy the tickets who provide the money, and it’s they and their communities who are seeing the benefits. 

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