Revive and reinvent: lessons from Royal Arsenal

When we came here in the 1990s, Woolwich town centre was on its knees and the closure of this historic Royal Arsenal munitions site had caused real pain. Unemployment was rife and the site itself was vast, derelict, cut-off and heavily contaminated.

Munitions Site | Features | Berkeley GroupThe old munitions site

After twenty years of partnership and regeneration, Royal Arsenal has become a beautiful riverside neighbourhood, teeming with community life, and reconnected to a re-energised Woolwich. It is now a safe and welcoming home, a thriving cultural scene and a vital source of local jobs and opportunities once again.

Delivering such a dramatic reinvention took commitment and tenacity from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, the GLA, Berkeley and the local community. What kept us on course was a shared determination to solve problems and our vision for a beautiful new part of Woolwich that people would be proud of.

It started with the restoration of Royal Arsenal's heritage buildings and creating welcoming and safe public spaces. We reconnected the site with the community around it and worked incredibly hard to attract a mix of amenities local people wanted most. Gradually, we opened up pubs, cafes, shops, offices, a medical centre, pharmacy, Heritage Centre, the Academy of Performing Arts, a brewery, restaurants, a creche, and much more.

Royal Arsenal Riverside | Features | Berkeley GroupRoyal Arsenal Riverside

Together with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, we created the RARE (Royal Arsenal Riverside Explore) brand that is now owned by dozens of local businesses and used to promote the Farmers' Markets, the Woolwich Carnival, Film and Swing Festivals and Christmas Fetes.

We spent years persuading Marks & Spencer to open in Woolwich, knowing it would trigger further investment and bring something new. We helped two local people to grow their businesses from their kitchen, to a market stall, to a beautiful restaurant. We helped a small creative agency based in a bedroom grow to take over a 1,500 sq.ft office.

We run business forums and networking events to create links between local traders and we based our own permanent divisional office at Royal Arsenal. We know the local community inside out and we employ local staff and suppliers.

Over time we have revived more and more of this historic site, creating 12 acres of public open space including Dial Arch, Artillery Square, and Wellington Park. More than 500 trees have been planted and for the first time in generations local families can enjoy a walk along the Woolwich riverside. The Thames Clipper Passenger Pier opened back in 2005 and the new Elizabeth Line station will soon follow.

Those who remember the old Woolwich of the 1990s will understand how far it has come. Many factors contributed to this success, but at the heart of it all is a partnership based on trust and a shared passion for reviving this fantastic part of London.

Royal Arsenal Riverside | Features | Berkeley GroupRoyal Arsenal Riverside