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Category Archives: Brewery Road Woking

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The WWF at Woking opened its exhibition area to the public with the minimum of fanfare this week, and I went along to look. There are four, interactive habitat zones, which the staff refer to as pods – I wondered about beehives, or ants’ nests – containing information and stunning visuals about forests, freshwater, oceans, and wildlife. At first you might think, Is this all there is? But don’t be fooled. The pods contain a wealth of information and images, and their impact slowly dawns on you. They are very child-friendly, with display boards at a variety of heights, and even a special entrance into the pod for toddlers, to increase that sense of wonder, and of something magical. Although this week’s opening has been low-key, there will be a proper, official opening of the exhibition area on Saturday afternoon, 25 January, between 2-4, with a bit more razzamatazz, including films. On a quiet weekday – of course, there may not be many of those once the school visits are full swing – I recommend it as a spot to chill out in, accompanied by awesome images and relaxing music. The perfect place to de-stress. I felt as though I was in another world, and then I remembered. It’s still the same one we all live in, and it’s very, very beautiful. The WWF is attempting to prod us, with its pods, into trying to help keep it that way – in any way we can.

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Everyone’s natural world hero, Sir David Attenborough, may appear a little taken aback in this official photograph of the opening of WWF-UK’s £20m Living Planet Centre in Woking last Friday, when he was shown its display of iconic pandas. But there was no doubting his enthusiasm for the new Woking building, a ground-breaking and prestigious asset for the town, which will be open to the public later this month. He described it as a “fantastic eco-building that shows not only how it’s possible to use our planet’s resources wisely, but also helps us all connect with the natural world and brings WWF’s vital work around the globe to life for us, right here and now”.

Some 300 WWF staff are now working at the Woking HQ, connecting with colleagues worldwide from the UK hub of the charity’s international network for global conservation. The Living Planet Centre, designed for WWF-UK by Hopkins Architects, sits on a raised platform beneath an overarching curved roof that has photovoltaic panels for solar energy and extensive glass to maximise natural light, and four recycled aluminium wind cowls that provide natural ventilation as air circulates through the building.

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The water management system includes rainwater harvesting and recycling. Inside the entrance visitors will find four interactive, habitat zones focusing on forests, rivers, oceans and wildlife. Ground-level landscaping around the building includes a wildlife pond. The greenery extends to the platform of the building, and even the new bike sheds have a natural sedum roof. WWF will invite schoolchildren and teachers to the learning zone and wildlife pond as part of a programme of curriculum-focused workshops for primary schools. David Nussbaum, WWF-UK’s CEO, said the Living Planet Centre “allows us to open our doors and invite visitors of all ages in for the first time ever. I think this will help people really connect with our place in the natural world, and the vital conservation work they help us to fund. But our passion for nature has to be matched by a commitment to use the planet’s resources sustainably, and we can now practise what we preach from a building that shows what can be achieved when we are determined. “

WWF’s Living Planet Centre will in time help to change the way people think about Woking. In addition to the host of grey, unimaginative buildings dedicated to commerce in the town, we now have one that is innovative and a treat to admire, that looks outwards to the natural world, and is evangelistically conscious of its responsibilities to it. Along with the equally dramatic Lightbox art gallery and museum on the other side of the Basingstoke canal, it establishes an attractive corner of Woking that offers an alternative view of life, and will become a magnet for visitors. The building is remarkable for the breathtaking curve of its roof, the startling wind cowls atop, and side struts that remind this writer a little of the Martian sculpture in the town centre. And, if one can be a bit parochial and crow for a moment, Guildford has nothing like it!

PHOTOGRAPHS: STONEHOUSE PHOTOGRAPHIC / WWF-UK

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View of Woking Lightbox from the current canal bridge

The power of protest and e-petitions has forced Woking council to retreat over its proposals for a new bridge over the Basingstoke canal linking the town centre with the Brewery Road car park and the soon-to-be-built UK HQ for the World Wildlife Fund. In  a press release last month the council said it has listened to residents’ concerns and was now promising that the bridge – which it prefers to call the Bedser bridge – would be “significantly lower than the previous proposal, meaning fewer steps and shorter, more compact ramps, while remaining Equality Act and disability compliant.”

The statement added: “Instead of a concrete and galvanised steel structure, the new design features a timber bridge that will be sympathetic to its surrounding area. The Brewery Road side has been reconfigured to improve public access to the bridge by incorporating split-level access to the WWF-UK building. Shorter, curved ramps will now mean that it has been necessary to revise the landscape scheme, which will include planting two native species trees as part of the revised ramps.”

This constitutes a major rethink, and indicates the strength of feeling which the council was forced to take into account.

Woking WWF bridgeWoking council has belatedly “extended” the deadline for objections to the proposed new canal bridge linking Horsell and Woking with the new WWF development at Brewery Road to the end of the month, after the outcry about its design. The objections include the height, linked to the WWF building itself which will be erected on stilts above the existing car park, but more specifically the lengths that pushchair, pram and wheelchair users will be forced to go along along the cyclists’ ramp if they choose not to use the lift. There is an online petition about this, with its closing date 21 October.  The row has rather sadly overshadowed the fact the new bridge is intended to be a tribute to Woking’s famous cricketing twins, Eric and Alec Bedser. It is also a shame that the WWF is being cast once more as a villain in this piece, with Woking council being accused of bending over backwards once more to facilitate the WWF’s prestigious arrival in the town. Surely the real reason for the increased height of the bridge has been overlooked: it is to attract larger boats along the Basingstoke canal as Woking seeks to reposition itself as a south-east centre for shipping.

WWF-UK this week at the HG Wells Centre has been putting flesh on its plans to build a new UK HQ on Woking’s Brewery Road car park. The low-rise, open-plan building with a curving roof will be built above the car park, “floated” in the architects’ words, so that few existing car park spaces will be lost – but at the moment there will no longer be any room for coaches, which may turn out to be a snag.  Included in the plans are an education and visitor centre, with the intention of attracting school parties, a public piazza and gardens, the retention of many of the trees around the car park, and re-landscaping of the canalside area. The rickety old bridge over the canal, above, is to be replaced by the council at the same time. WWF, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, wants to move from its “clappped-out” current home at Panda House, on an industrial estate in Godalming, and “express itself” in an eye-catching – and they hope, award-winning – green new building. Despite the recession, it has the funds to do it. There were about 100 people at the public presentation I attended on Wednesday afternoon, one of three being staged by WWF.  They were mostly elderly, mostly from Horsell, and mostly hostile – the same sort of people who successfully fought the proposed transfer of Surrey county council’s  HQ from Kingston to Woking a number of years ago. They will no doubt fill the letters pages of local papers with their objections over the next few weeks, even though the Brewery Road site has long been zoned for development. However, one resident who lives close to the canalside had to admit: “This plan is the best I’ve seen so far.”  To find out more about WWF’s intentions, there is a temporary email address:  newhq@wwf.org.uk

February 2011 update:  Good news! Despite the grumbling from Horsell, WWF has gained planning permission for its Woking HQ

http://www.woking.gov.uk/news?item=00004D53C4C9.C0A801BA.00001B72.0003

Last month plans for World Wildlife Fund-UK to move its headquarters from Godalming to Brewery Road, Woking, alongside the Basingstoke canal and close to the Lightbox, moved a step forward when councillors gave the go-ahead for negotiations to start. WWF is talking about a building that is environmentally-sensitive and uses sustainable resources, which obviously fits in with Woking’s increased attempt to brand itself as an environmentally-friendly town. The coming of WWF to Woking would certainly raise the town’s profile, and provide some consolation after the about-turn by Surrey county council on plans to establish a new HQ on the same site three years ago. These were scuppered partly by the opposition of residents in nearby Horsell, who may also object to WWF, but more importantly on cost grounds. (Surrey instead elected to keep its HQ in the London borough of Kingston after all, which has not been part of Surrey since the mid-1960s).  David Nussbaum, the chief executive of WWF-UK, has been quoted as saying: “The new green headquarters offers WWF a fantastic opportunity to improve our own footprint, and improve the way that we, as an organisation, interact with our environment. We have been keen to understand local perspectives about our aspirations for the Brewery Road site, and have been particularly encouraged by the response from members of the public during the initial consultation exercises.” Make of that what you will!

For more info: http://www.woking.gov.uk/news?item=0000496B69C9.C0A801BA.0000658D.0020

http://www.wwf.org.uk/wwf_articles.cfm?unewsid=4003