Revitalising a Declared Monument into a community Montessori kindergarten
In 2015 we discovered the grand old White House by TTT Pumping Station could become available for a three year lease. We had all visited The Green School, Bali and wondered at its magical bamboo buildings and its vision of hands-on, inclusive, sustainable green learning.
We campaigned for it to be made into a Hong Kong's first Sustainable, Green Kindergarten. But the Government Property Agency preferred it to be a private residence. We submitted a bid and to our great surprise it was chosen!
With Selda, a Montessori teacher, sustainable education visionary, all-round maker-type, the downstairs rooms became home to our informal, non-profit, green and sustainable, community kindergarten which had been going since 2013 in Shek O.
In Summer 2022 it was announced that NGO Lifewire and inclusive international school The Harbour School (THS) won the Revitalising Heritage Through Partnership bid, to turn the White House into Hong Kong's first Sustainable Green Kindergarten, opening in 2028.
Heading to Shek O on the top deck of the number 9 bus (most exciting bus route in HK) you may notice the big white house by the water next to the great Victorian pumping station. This is the Senior Staff Quarters of Tai Tam Tuk Raw Water Pumping Station. It was built in 1905 for the chief engineer in charge of the 22 structures of the Tai Tam Waterworks Group.
In the 1980s, having been derelict for some years it was made available to Jackie's legendary St. Stephens Society founded in Kowloon Walled City for rehabilitation of drug addicts.
The building is a Declared Monument and under Town Planning rules zoned for Government, Institution or Community use, meaning no planning permission is required for it to be used as a school, museum, visitor centre etc., as befitting a heritage asset of public interest.
We thought, why does a green school for Hong Kong have to be built with bamboo? Why not use what we already have?
The Government Property Agency (GPA) who was in charge of renting out the building decided it should continue to be rented out as a private residence. We put in a bid and to our astonishment (and moderate panic), the letter came telling us we could move in 3 weeks!
Someone lent us an amazing book, Alice Water's The Edible Schoolyard (did you know this ultra famous chef trained as a Montessori teacher?), and with Enno we created a kitchen garden. We started after school clubs: arts, gardening, a carer and toddler bonding class, an adventure playground with a bamboo slide and jungle gym, zipline and den.
The children chose their own work, completed it, and put it back. They gardened, harvested the produce and cooked lunch. They lay the table, ate together, then scrubbed their mess away. We had refugee welcoming days, outdoor movie nights, fundraising afternoons to send our dear friend and garden teacher to Australia for her first professional qualification.
Nearing the end of the 3 years, we tried again to show GPA how much potential the place had. It didn't work, but then no-one bid for the place for residential, and it lay empty again.
Then, there was hope. Early 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, the White House and Staff Quarters of the Pumping Station appeared on the Revitalising Heritage Through Partnership Scheme, inviting non-profit entities to give new life and use to heritage buildings such as the Blue House on Stone Nullah Lane, and Tai Po Old Police Station Green Living Hub by Kadoorie Farm.
At least 9 NGO groups put in proposals for the buildings, although not us. The results were delayed by several months, and then several months more.
We've known THS since meeting back in 2013 (thanks, Craig!). We are so, SO delighted they will become our new neighbours. We have the highest hopes for a carbon positive, biodiversity positive, zero waste renovation, appropriate to this ecological emergency we live in, and we can't wait to work with them.