John Parry, an environmental education researcher, set up the Railway Land Wildlife Trust in 1988. Its aim was to turn the former railway sidings at the edge of the A26 in Lewes into a local nature reserve and education resource.
Over the years the challenges have been numerous, with each initiative taking huge effort and planning. The restoration of a signal box, for example, took a staggering seven years to complete.
The crowning glory of the whole project, however, is the Linklater Pavilion, a centre for the study of environmental change.
Placed at the entrance of the nature reserve, the £630,000 centre has been built through voluntary fundraising in difficult financial times.
The building itself has photovoltaic solar panels, a sedum roof, a ground source heat pump and it’s own water supply. It is built on stilts to withstand the frequent floods faced by the area, and using only local and sustainable materials.
It’s the planned usage of the building that is most inspiring, however. Named after the late Peter Linklater, who led a public inquiry into the proposed concreting over of the whole site, the pavilion will be a community centre for environmental education. It will allow the Railway Land Trust to continue their work preserving and researching the land as well as helping the local young people connect with their environment. It is to be an archive of transition from our current society to a more sustainable one. And it will act as a base for adults with learning disabilities to work alongside schools.
It’s creation has been no less than epic, with floods, delays, sewage works and even manpower pressures caused by the the 2012 Olympics seeing the cost of the project rise from an initial £250,000 for the first plan in 1997 to a whopping £750,000 in 2008.
John has been at the forefront from the beginning, driving the project with an iron will and keeping going where many would have given up. He says: “We are still fund-raising for fitting out but we expect to take possession of this magnificent building in mid June.”