Reclaiming a derelict site to create a community garden
The story of how a group of dissatisfied residents pulled together, got funding, and created a blooming community garden where the work, and the rewards, are shared.
Not far from the 2012 Olympic Village in Stratford, another local regeneration project, albeit on a much smaller scale, has energised a small residential street.
For years overgrown with Japanese knotweed and littered with rubbish from flytipping, a derelict site behind a wobbly fence on Bakers Row had been a constant cause of neighbours' frustration.
Tired of looking at it, they pulled together resources, time and effort and in just over three years reclaimed it as a thriving community garden, anchored by an innovative artistic vision of how to weave culture and community into regeneration.
'Over the years I would look outside my window to see if the site would be developed,' says Dasha French, who moved to the street in 2000 and who, with six others, co-founded a community group. 'Nothing ever happened so we started inquiring with the council to figure out who it belongs to and whether we could we do a bit of planting.'
They discovered that the site was protected by English Heritage and owned by the parks department. As a scheduled ancient monument site, it held the remains of the 12th century Langthorne Abbey. While it was protected from commercial development, the upkeep of the site had fallen by the wayside.
'Just enquiring as residents doesn't have much power with the council,' she says. In December 2006 they formed the Friends of Abbey Gardens (FOAG). 'We found a sample constitution on the internet, modified it, and signed it. We came up with the name Abbey Gardens because of the monastic heritage.'
As a group, they applied for and won an UnLtd Millennium Award for social entrepreneurs to help create a public communal space. 'While our aim was to host community events, says Andreas Lang, another co-founder, 'it was so difficult to access the site we ended up having to throw a BBQ on the street.' The Award allowed them to create a website to generate community interest.