When Newham council first showed me the site of what would become The UP Garden, I could hear a little voice in my head saying “uh-oh, what have you got yourself into…?”. This enormous (900m 2) laundry yard, abandoned for decades and therefore strewn with spiky impenetrable weeds as tall as me that almost obscured the lumpy asphalt surface underneath, was a far cry from the original site I had in mind. I mentally said goodbye to my ‘nice little project of a few raised beds and benches’.
Ours is the largest of several unused yards on a housing estate in Forest Gate (near Little Diamonds nursery), which I have convinced the council to let us transform and reclaim. The majority of those residents have no garden, or even a balcony, of their own and, to add insult to injury, they look over these huge swathes of unused space.
By creating The UP Garden, we hope to provide somewhere for people to garden in a social environment thus benefitting both physical and mental health. The majority of planters will be for everyone to use and enjoy, but some will be set aside as free micro-allotments for residents on the estate without green space of their own.
We also want to encourage inter-generational socialisation.
Community gardening typically attracts older people, so we have installed a wildflower ‘urban meadow’ for children to play on and will be adding things like bug hotels, whilst seating and games will be provided for teenagers to enjoy. Young people are naturally curious, and we hope that being around gardeners and biodiversity will pique their interest enough that they want to learn more and join in.
The wildflower turf, filled planters, trees, gravel drains and water butts connected to downpipes will also help to address heat and flood, for which this estate scores highly on the GLA’s Climate Risk maps.
Our grant funding has been spent on the groundworks, equipment and materials required to create the infrastructure for The UP Garden. Even then, a large proportion has been donated from very generous local businesses.
With no paid staff, we are wholly reliant on volunteers.
A small number of people have delivered a gargantuan effort to get us where we are, from designing the layout to building planters to collecting donated materials to keeping our turf and plants alive throughout this freakishly hot and dry summer to flyering hundreds of households. So the hard work has been done.
However, we need far more volunteers to make The UP Garden a place that people want to visit over and over again! This will also be key to it staying in a good state: the more visitors it has caring for and enjoying it, the less likely that anti-social behaviour will occur. Conversely, if the council feels that The UP Garden is too troublesome, it may start to look at alternative uses such as selling it off to property developers which would be a huge shame given that Forest Gate is soon to lose its main community centre, Durning Hall, to private redevelopment.
Through surveys and consultations, the community has suggested many wonderful ideas to attract visitors that we would love to provide at The UP Garden but we need help to get them off the drawing board and make them a reality. We are hosting a Volunteer Reception next Sunday and would love the community to come and give us their thoughts on how to do that. We hope to see you there!
The Volunteer Reception is on Sunday 7 August 2022 from 11am-2pm, with refreshments provided. To help gauge numbers, please register your interest in attending. More details about The UP Garden can be found on their website, and you can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.