Grenfell Early Years Nursery

London, United Kingdom

This new home for Grenfell Early Years Nursery, a cornerstone of the Lancaster West Children’s Community Network in North Kensington, provides care, support and facilities for young children aged 12 months to four years old, and their carers and families, from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s largest council estate.

The Nursery has been at the heart of the Lancaster West Estate for over 30 years. Originally housed at the foot of the Grenfell Tower, following the tragic fire of 2017 they moved to temporary accommodation at the neighbouring Ilys Booker Centre to continue their vital work.

Our brief was to find a new site, and to provide a 32-place permanent home for the nursery, with improved facilities and access to nature. The new nursery is part-refurbishment, part new-build, wedged in a triangular slip of space between two existing housing blocks. Despite the site’s physical constraints, the innovative design bursts out of its confines, transforming a once cluttered and dark space into a place of light and openness, colour and joy.

Making a temporary home permanent

After multiple feasibility studies involving extensive stakeholder engagement with parents, staff, residents, Lancaster West Children’s Community Network, RBKC, and the Lancaster West Residents Association, the existing location at the Ilys Booker Centre was selected as the best location.

Internally, two main rooms on the ground floor and one on the first provide flexible spaces, giving the children a strong connection to nature.
The nursey's new flex spaces support opportunities for outdoor learning–fundamental to the nursery’s approach to education–and access to fresh air, daylight, and sunshine.
"This vital community resource celebrates a positive new beginning, as part of the recovery process for the whole of the Lancaster West Estate."

― Rafael Marks, Principal

The muted palette of low-carbon and recyclable materials–birch ply, timber furniture, and a soft green rubber floor–provides a calm environment to promote health and well-being.
Roof lights bring sunshine deep into the building.
A ‘picket fence’ pattern is a repeating motif on the balustrades, front gate, and canopies. 
A calm environment to promote well-being

Sustainability lies at the core of the Nursery’s design, developed in line with the three-step hierarchy: be lean, be clean, be green. It reduces energy demand in the first instance through a highly insulated building fabric, by limiting heat loss through infiltration, and through space-efficient heating and hot water systems which can connect to an envisaged zero-carbon district heating network for the wider estate. Extensive glazing reduces reliance on artificial lighting, and low-energy lighting has been specified. Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery, hidden behind timber panelling, further reduces energy demand with 90% efficiency. The building services also include Air Source Heap Pumps with a heating efficiency of 4.2 and cooling efficiency of 7.69.

Ancillary functions–kitchen, office, staff room and toilets–are planned efficiently to optimise circulation space and openness. Recycled materials, such as the kitchen counter, were used where possible and all materials were selected for their near-zero volatile organic compounds.

All play spaces lead directly to outside play areas, the first-floor space accessing a roof terrace.
A mini-climbing wall embedded in the landscape between the trees encourages opportunities for exercise and play.
Natural exploration

The new playground provides a bright, open, and accessible landscape, with fun and stimulating areas and a variety of natural spaces to explore. It integrates a woodland walkway beside existing mature trees along the boundary fence which leads towards the main entrance courtyard. This area includes colourful furniture and doubles as an outdoor classroom and play area. A dedicated wildflower area between the trees allows the children to meander, explore, and learn about insects and animals. Different types of play equipment and a mini-climbing wall embedded in the landscape between the trees encourage opportunities for exercise and play. Storage space for pushchairs is tucked beneath a canopy along the boundary, which also provides privacy for both the children and the residents who live above the playground.

Circular windows adorned with insects, butterflies and flowers contribute to the sense of exploration and wonder through the building.
Helping to heal a community

The project has enabled a step-change in the provision of childcare in a community still healing after the Grenfell tragedy. As one of the very few remaining nurseries in the area, its services are vital to local families, young mothers, and the local economy. And where previously the nursery was undersubscribed, its waiting lists are now double its capacity. with feedback from parents and the community being overwhelmingly positive.

This is testament to the dedication and commitment of the nursery and the ability of the new building to enable and facilitate their work.

“The nursery benefits, and will continue to benefit, so many children and their families, both now and in the years to come. It is a truly valued asset within our community and we’re delighted to see that the space is being recognised for its positive impact.”

― Shirley Sylvester, Nursery Manager

Project Team

Rafael Marks