Clissold House in Stoke Newington will reopen to the public on January 3 after extensive refurbishment. It marks the climax of the restoration of Clissold Park.
Hackney Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have invested £9 million in the two year restoration of the park and house.
Clissold Park is one of the best used parks in London and Caroline Millar, 47, chair of the Clissold Park User Group, sees the refurbishment uniting the community and becoming “the people’s park”.
Millar, 47, who has lived in Stoke Newington for 12 years and works in the health service, said: “It’s all about giving local people more ownership of what happens in the park. It’s about us really setting the agenda for what happens in the future.”
The CPUG have been advising the council to ensure the restoration best suits the needs of local residents and park users.
Part of the project has been to reinstate the architectural and landscape features so that the park looks more like it did when it was first built in the 19th century.
Improvements include renovated animal enclosures, a refurbished bowls pavilion and two lakes dredged. New River has also been given a pumping system to maintain water flow and two decorative footbridges.
The ground floor of the house has been used for many years as a park cafe but few local people ever strayed beyond the tea room or were able to explore the rooms above.
“I still think [Clissold House] is a really unknown commodity. Most people who live here have no idea what the house is like inside. And that’s really exciting, because when they get inside they’re going to be amazed,” said Millar.
The restoration of Clissold House is now in the final stages. Its cafe and rooms have been refurbished and wheelchair access has been added. The council’s hopes it will become a popular meeting space for individuals, companies and community groups, as well as a venue for ceremonies and weddings.
The house has already received interest from a TV production company, who filmed there with Jo Brand in November for a BBC4 documentary to air on Valentine’s day next year.
“It was the User Group who actually saved the house in the first place,” said Millar, by encouraging English Heritage to fund preserving the roof when it was in disrepair. The group has led the struggle to restore Clissold Park since 1986.
Penny Crick, 58, from Stoke Newington, who lives in a house that overlooks the park and has longstanding involvement with the CPUG, said she was “tremendously relieved” at what the group’s efforts have achieved.
“People had lots of memories of boating on the lakes and so on. They wanted it returned to a landscape fit for the people. It should be the people’s park, not the landowner’s park,” she said.
Millar added: “We [the CPUG] never saw it as a bad park, but we all thought it could be nicer, so I suppose I wanted to help bring it to life again.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have that house, it’s beautiful. The idea is that it can be made available and accessible to everybody.”
Speaking about the restoration project, Daniel Stevens, Lordship ward councillor, told EastLondonLines: “We are delighted with the work that Hackney Council has done to make Clissold Park one of the most beautiful and well-equipped parks in London.
“Whether it’s the new children’s play area or the new wheels park, enjoying a coffee in the cafe or taking a relaxed walk past the reinstated new river, the restoration of Clissold Park will ensure that everyone in the local community is able to enjoy this beautiful space.”
The official opening of the house and cafe is scheduled for January 3, 2012. There will be regular guided tours for the first few weeks.