Willesden Cemetery was this week celebrating a successful end to a two-year funding battle, after it was awarded a £1.7m National Lottery grant to open it up as public heritage site.

The United Synagogue (US) was awarded the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to open the Victorian site – the only Jewish cemetery to be listed on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.

The grant forms the bulk of a £2.3 million project “to put the cemetery on a sustainable footing for the future,” with heritage honchos acknowledging that it is still little-known outside the Jewish community.

Among the 29,800 graves are pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin and Tesco founder Sir Jack Cohen, and Stuart Hobley, head of HLF London, said the cemetery was “an incredibly important part of Jewish, London and national heritage”.

The project will begin this spring, and organisers said the cemetery “will become a hub for volunteering, with people of different backgrounds developing skills and working together to capture, protect and share the site’s heritage”.

Michael Goldstein, president of the US, said: “Our community has long valued Willesden Cemetery as a significant place of memory… We are now poised to open it to the public, fostering greater understanding of our heritage and way of life.”

Blueprint of the new design for Willesden Cemetery

The project envisages a refurbishment of the Edwardian entrance Lodge into a visitor welcome centre, new openings in the exterior wall to give views into the cemetery, new planting along paths, and conservation work at the original Prayer Hall and linked funerary buildings.

Willesden will remain an active burial ground, and adaptations will allow for school visits, talks and exhibitions, telling the stories of those buried there through guided walks, films, signage, maps and a website.

Activities will start from later in 2018, ranging from genealogy to creative writing and photography, and temporary exhibitions will showcase Jewish history as part of local and London heritage.