OPENING THE WALLED GARDEN
The London Borough of Havering, an urban-rural gateway on the fringe of the capital, faced the challenge of restoring a piece of neglected heritage: a Walled Garden in Bedfords Park. Dating from the 1770s, the Walled Garden was a symbol of horticultural innovation in its heyday and operated as a nursery and community food-growing site until it was forced to close in 1999. Subsequently, efforts were made by the Council and community groups such as the Friends of Bedfords Park (FOBP) to revitalise the Walled Garden, both on account of its heritage value and its potential to contribute to Havering’s broader regeneration agenda. However, the challenges were manifold and CLEAR VILLAGE was called in to contribute to the revitalisation drive and take it to a new level.
WHAT WE DID
CLEAR VILLAGE conducted a spontaneous wellbeing inquiry in Havering-atte-Bower, the nearest settlement to the garden. The inquiry, which involved 14% of all local households, identified a strong desire to see the Walled Garden restored and also indicated a variety of ways in which it could contribute to general community wellbeing.
CLEAR VILLAGE brought together local stakeholders (such as the Council, FOBP, Essex Wildlife Trust and the Havering-atte-Bower Conservation Society) as well as external knowledge partners (such as the Eden Project) to engage in collective dreaming and vision-building. Through opportunity design that took into consideration the needs and agendas of different stakeholders, the vision was created of a restored Walled Garden that would serve as a community food-growing and educational space, provide an activity hub especially for Havering’s ageing population and members of nearby neighbourhoods that suffered from deprivation, and add an attractive destination to a fringe location.
As well as leading the second stage grant application for the National Lottery’s Local Food programme, CLEAR VILLAGE organised an open-air Lab in the Walled Garden. A team of ‘Garden Angels’- a diverse group of volunteers made up of locals, members of FOBP, representatives from the Council, and supporters from as far off as the United States, Slovakia and Cyprus- spent six days bringing change to the Walled Garden. They weeded, raked and tilled; harvested and planted; and co-designed and built a bamboo pavilion for winter vegetables.
Artistic collaboration and branding
Additionally, the Garden Angels Lab was enhanced by an artistic collaboration with Grammy winner Imogen Heap, who not only called on her fan base for support but also contributed a moving “Heapsong” about neglected space. “Heapsong” incorporates concepts, people and sounds from the Lab and thus constitutes an innovative step to change the narrative about the Walled Garden and create an appealing new brand.
The activities thus far have created a platform for regeneration of the walled garden. The local community has been deeply engaged and has experienced that change is possible through collective dreams and actions. As one person put it: “this is the most exciting thing that has happened in the community in the last thirty years.” Relevant stakeholders have been brought together in a partnership constellation with a shared vision that is fully aligned with their individual agendas. The likelihood of funding has been increased thanks to the detailed strategy and implementation plan that was developed for Local Food. And the rebranding of the Walled Garden has started so as to enable everyone to tell a different and inspirational story about the Walled Garden. Building on these initial achievements, CLEAR VILLAGE will host a Walled Garden Lab in the course of 2012 which will bring together locals, stakeholders, and experts in a facilitated process to co-design and co-vision the next phase of the Walled Garden regeneration drive.