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Space to play in Ladbroke Grove

Walking with John Goodier

A circular walk, starting and ending at Ladbroke Grove underground station.

Link to Map

  1. Starting from Ladbroke Grove tube station, follow Lancaster Road then Basing Street to Tavistock Gardens. Hidden among housing, it was completely redesigned in 2001; an area of grass and semi-tropical planting opens out to a children’s play area. Open space and trees between the houses and the Westway continue the green corridor.
  1. Continue round Tavistock Crescent to the Brunel Estate, completed in 1974. The landscaping, by Michael Brown, showcases brickwork, the highlight being a children’s slide built on a tall brick structure; reaching the top involves finding a route up various levels. The gardens have recently been added to Historic England’s List of Registered Parks.
  1. Continue along Westbourne Park Villas, then cross under Westway at Royal Oak tube station to Westbourne Green. Opened as a park in 1974, it was once the works depot for the building of the A40 and the Westway flyover. The southern part is meadow, but the most important features are the play areas, one for younger children in the northern part, across Bourne Terrace, and another for older children in the southern part, alongside an outdoor gym. The Canal runs along the top of the park, with a sculptural bridge crossing it.
  1. Without crossing the canal, follow the towpath left to the Meanwhile Gardens, established as a community garden in 1976. Play spaces including an excellent skate bowl sit within a range of habitats, with a formal sitting space – the Courtyard Garden – at the west end. Gerry’s Pompeii, a unique sculpture garden of ‘outsider art’, can be seen across the canal.
  1. Continue along Kensal Road to Emslie
    Horniman’s Pleasance Park, laid out in 1914 by Charles Voysey and Madeline Agar. Horniman was a local MP who
    gifted the park to the community; the restored formal garden is visible even when closed to the public. There is a well-equipped play area and an innovative adventure playground, with resident goats!
  1. Head down Hazlewood Crescent to Golborne Road, spotting an effective planting of palm trees in Kensal New Town. At the corner of Elkstone and Golborne Roads is a community garden highlighting the meanings and uses of plants. Follow Golborne Road to Portobello Road, arriving at Athlone Gardens which boasts playgrounds for both children and dogs! The middle of the park is caught up in housing redevelopment but there is good street planting in the finished parts. Return down Portobello Road to Portobello Green, run by the Westway Trust which manages the land under the Westway as community space. Follow Thorpe Close under the Westway to return to Ladbroke Grove tube station.

Rising to the challenge: London’s community gardens

Professional gardener Catherine Miller explores the adaptability that is helping to future-proof London’s community gardens.

National Trust founder Octavia Hill’s campaigns of the 19th century, ‘Space for the People’ and ‘More Air for London’, seem very relevant today as Covid-19 restrictions have brought so many more people into their local open spaces for essential exercise and contact with nature.

According to the Office for National Statistics, one in five households in London have no garden. Any green space, however small, is therefore very important to our well-being as Londoners. Community gardens such as Sunnyside in Archway and Phoenix in Soho are largely surrounded by flats; Sunnyside describes itself as “a massive back garden for local people”.

The Phoenix Garden (Photo: Lynne Eva)

London’s community gardens have always adapted to changing circumstances, but COVID-19 has brought exceptional challenges. They have had to close for much of the duration of the pandemic in many cases, or operate with many restrictions. Their visitors usually include the most vulnerable of society, and many were set up to reduce social isolation.

Culpeper Community Garden (Photo: Colin Wing)

Accordingly, they have repurposed their resources to support their local communities. Bankside Open Spaces Trust, which runs several community gardens in Southwark, put on its Great Get Together event online in 2020, and the Calthorpe Community Garden in Kings Cross has organised food parcels and phone calls to vulnerable or shielding local residents, instead of its usual social gatherings. Culpeper Community Garden in the Angel is now open again with clearly signed restrictions, and socially distanced digging is possible for local plotholders.

Funding difficulties

London’s community gardens do not have large reserves to buffer them from crises: they are small organisations built from the energy and resourcefulness of local people, and creative, committed staff. In terms of funding, the income they made from venue hire and corporate team-building days vanished in a puff of smoke overnight with lockdown. It is anyone’s guess how this will pan out in the long term, as companies have changed the way they do business, with so many people working from home. London may look very different as restrictions gradually come to an end.
In contrast, funding from charitable trusts has reportedly been very flexible and understanding. Funders are adjusting to circumstances too. It’s apparent that if community gardens cannot help people face-to-face they can do so in other ways which are valuable and worthy of support. The need for support has not gone away; mental health problems and poverty may get a lot worse this year and community conduits for help will be needed.

Community gardens, putting the natural world on the doorstep, have provided great solace to people in built-up areas enduring lockdown restrictions. Seasonal changes take place regardless, and bird and insect life of course does not distinguish between parks, community gardens or private gardens. It is all part of that great network of green space which makes London liveable.

And now, spring is here.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @CommGdnsLondon

Precarious Parks

The impact of coronavirus on London’s green spaces

Local green spaces were used heavily during the coronavirus lockdown as many of us craved fresh air and exercise. Yet rather than heralding a new dawn for London’s parks, Dr Andrew Smith, Reader at the University of Westminster, explains how the COVID-19 crisis exposed the funding frailties which have long threatened their survival.

London’s parks are world renowned, but they have received unprecedented levels of attention and appreciation during the coronavirus crisis. Parks and green spaces supplied much needed fresh air and green space, particularly for the 21% of London households who do not have access to private gardens. Parks also provided places where people could socialise at a distance. When cafés, pubs and other social infra­structure were closed, the park became the place where public life was enacted and experienced.

Excess litter in Mountsfield Park
Excess litter in Mountsfield Park (Andrew Smith)

Given this prominence in the public sphere, it is tempting to think that the corona­virus crisis might have had positive effects for parks. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Looming in the background is a familiar and established problem: funding. London Boroughs were already struggling to fund their parks and green spaces1, and they now face an unprecedented budget crisis. There is a triple threat:

  • general local authority shortfalls caused by the crisis;
  • the loss of commercial income which now offsets the costs of maintaining many parks;
  • additional costs caused by the intense use of parks as lockdown measures began to be eased.
Clearing up the mess in Mountsfield Park
Clearing up the mess in Mountsfield Park (Andrew Smith)

Local authorities have been promised additional monies2 to help offset the effects of the crisis, but this will not be enough to prevent further cuts to local authority budgets. One thing we have learned from a decade of austerity is that, as non-statutory services, parks are not given the same priority as other services when council budgets are squeezed.

Over the past ten years, parks have been forced to generate more of their own income – by increasing the amount of revenue earned from car parking, concessions and sports facilities, and by hiring out space to event organisers. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the proportion of UK park funding derived from commercial sources of income was believed to be around 29%3. In 2018-9 the charitable trust that runs The Royal Parks generated three quarters of its operating budget4 from commercial revenue. London Boroughs like Lambeth, Wandsworth and Haringey have also adopted entrepreneurial approaches, and several of London’s largest municipal parks now generate more money than is needed to pay for their upkeep.

Tooting Common during lockdown
The café on Tooting Common during lockdown (Colin Wing)

Park authorities that have diversified their sources of income have been worst
hit by the coronavirus crisis. Revenue streams have collapsed, with losses up to
£1,000,000 affecting large, commercially oriented parks. Despite the reopening of
cafés and some sports facilities, it will be next year before authorities can generate
revenue from big ticket items like music festivals5.

Many London parks are now run by social enterprises or trusts, and these organis­ations may not survive the effects of COVID-19. The Community Interest Company (CIC) that runs Gunnersbury Park is reporting a 40% reduction in its annual income because it had to close facilities and cancel events.

Budget shortfalls have been exacerbated by the additional costs of maintaining parks during the crisis. When park use increases, as it has done since lockdown measures were eased6, so do the costs of maintaining parks. There have been big increases in littering and additional work for overstretched employees. Staff in Alexandra Park7
collected 25 tonnes of litter during the month of May, placing additional pressure on the trust that runs this park. Parties, raves and other unauthorised events8 have caused additional problems, with staff having to deal with associated urination, vandalism and complaints. Additional costs have been exacerbated by the loss of volunteer labour – when these in-kind contributions are taken into consideration, the losses caused by COVID-19 are even higher.

Faced with inadequate public funding, additional costs and the collapse of commercial income, park authorities are now seeking funds from other sources. Some, including Gunnersbury Park CIC and Lordship Rec, are asking for donations from users. This may help to offset short term deficits, and there may be potential to generate money from this source in the future9, but sustainable funding for London’s parks remains elusive. Commercial funding is precarious, and the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that over-relying on income from events10 is not sensible. However with public funding likely to be even more scarce, park authorities may be forced to ramp up commercial activity as soon as it is safe to do so.

There are no easy solutions to the funding problems facing London’s parks, but the 2020 coronavirus pandemic suggests we should have more faith in our local authorities. Despite being undermined and underfunded by successive national governments, London’s borough councils have rightly earned praise for keeping parks open and safe during the COVID-19 crisis. Keeping them open and safe in the longer term might be achieved by backing local authority park management11, rather than constantly searching for new entrepreneurial governance and funding models. London’s parks seem more important than ever and, if they are to continue to deliver a range of public benefits and assist the green recovery, more public funding is urgently needed.

References:

  1. www.london.gov.uk/about-us/london-assembly/london-assembly-publications/park-life-ensuring-green-spaces-remain-hit
  2. www.gov.uk/government/news/government-pledges-extra-16-billion-for-councils
  3. www.heritagefund.org.uk/publications/state-uk-public-parks-2016
  4. https://www.royalparks.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/109880/TRP-Annual-Report-201819.pdf
  5. https://londonist.com/london/music/london-music-festival-guide
  6. www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/21/data-public-uk-relaxed-attitude-lockdown-restrictions
  7. www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/alexandra-palace-rubbish-dump-not-acceptable-1-6696493
  8. www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/politics/hackney-marshes-injunction-application-1-6692393
  9. https://futureofparks.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2019/07/Final-report-Charitable-Giving-to-Parks-and-Green-Spaces.pdf
  10. https://theconversation.com/is-it-right-to-use-public-parks-for-commercial-events-61889
  11. https://parksmanagementforum.co.uk