Councillor Hugh Rayner, the Mayor of Barnet, wearing a hard hat and his chain of office, was armed with a new spade as he set to work breaking ground at a ceremony that also marks another milestone in the development of the Noah’s Ark Children Hospice.
The construction work is the first phase in redeveloping a group of former school buildings, just off Byng Road. The new environment centre is to be built on an empty plot, and after the dis-used school buildings have been demolished the cleared land will be the site of a new children’s hospice.
Once completed the environment centre and hospice will both share access to the nature reserve that is managed jointly by the Barnet Countryside Centre and the London Wildlife Trust.
A £750,000 donation by the Hadley Trust to Noah’s Ark (www.noahsark-hospice.org.uk) helped launched the three-way partnership, and Councillor Rayner acknowledged the importance of the ceremony (24.1.2015) to Noah’s Ark and the Friends of Barnet Countryside Centre (www.fobcc.org.uk).
“Noah’s Ark is such an inspirational charity, as I was only saying Mrs Cameron at 10 Downing Street the other day,” said the Mayor, amid laughter from the assembled guests. “I am delighted to attend and to take this chance to congratulate the environment centre on their work and thank the Hadley Trust.”
Ru Watkins, chief executive of Noah’s Ark, added his thanks to the Hadley Trust for its generosity in helping to achieve a “great step forward” in the joint future of the hospice and countryside centre.
“Today’s ceremony shows that at last we are digging out to support the community, the families and their children and to show why both organisations are an integral part of the community.”
Dick Elms, chair of the countryside centre trustees, welcomed the Mayor, and expressed his delight at the rapid progress that was being made. Construction work was two weeks ahead of schedule and should be finished by July, ready for the official opening of the new centre in September.
Now that construction is underway, the centre is advertising for an environmental education manager who would help prepare and deliver education sessions for school children visiting the nature reserve.
A part-time fixed contract is being offered and the new manager would be in post from February until July, working three days a week.
Planning permission was granted by Barnet Council in 2012 for an eco-friendly environment centre and a £4.8 million children’s hospice, and the first stage of the work includes the demolition of the dis-used school buildings.
Mr Watkins said Noah’s Ark hoped to start work on the construction of the hospice in 2016 but the timing depended on the success of future fund-raising.
“We need £6.7 million in the bank before we can begin the new building and we are still £4 million away from our target. We also need assured operating income for Noah’s Ark as we are continually expanding our work in the community and costs keep increasing.”
He said that at present Noah’s Ark was caring for 185 children but research has shown that there are probably 350 children in the charity’s catchment area that need palliative care and assistance.
In the first phase of the work environmental barriers will be installed, undergrowth cleared and asbestos roofing removed from the school building by a specialist contractor.
The main contractors, Maurice Williams Construction, have given an undertaking that everything will be done to ensure that deliveries of building materials and access for equipment does not cause additional problems in Byng Road and the surrounding streets.