Comment Walthamstow

Pocket Parks are just the start

Local nature enthusiast Deborah Williams thinks Waltham Forest’s Pocket Parks are important – but that we could be doing much more for our borough’s […]By Waltham Forest Echo

Taken at a local Pocket Park (Credit: Deborah Williams)
Taken at a local Pocket Park (Credit: Deborah Williams)

Local nature enthusiast Deborah Williams thinks Waltham Forest’s Pocket Parks are important – but that we could be doing much more for our borough’s natural spaces

In Walthamstow, there are numerous Pocket Parks and Copenhagen crossings popping up. In general, I think many have welcomed them. At least, they have made us slow down and look at roads for something other than the priority of cars.

There is one Pocket Park near where I live, which has proven popular with children – as they can follow a path that passes along the tarmac, through the plants and trees. The council has provided plants and some have thrived, but not all. Neighbours have also volunteered to maintain these spaces and even added their own planting. It reflects, perhaps, a need to nurture and protect our limited green spaces, as well as adding our own creativity.

Research often highlights the importance of gardening and green spaces for our mental and physical wellbeing. For many, it is essential. If we are lucky to have a garden, then it can be a private oasis. And lockdown certainly highlighted the need for open green spaces in public.

But increasing urbanisation has made many of us fear for these remaining green areas in the borough – and indeed, the recent controversy over Secret Cinema’s now-postponed summer usage of the Low Hall Sports Ground showed just how passionately the community felt about protecting public space.

In my own area, neighbours have sown and planted flowers in any available crack in concrete or open ground, with wildlife in mind. We have encouraged hedgehogs in the street and asked for a grant to install boxes to attract swifts. Many other streets in the area are doing the same. The St James Street Big Local Neighbourhood Greening Project has been fantastic in developing this enthusiasm further – and the great thing about this scheme is that the plants offered are native and edible.

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Communities are starting to green up their streets themselves. But with the new tower blocks that are mushrooming around the borough – could more be done to encourage this? These blocks often have municipal shrubs and trees around the site – yet Waltham Forest Council and the companies involved could easily introduce or support some imaginative planting, with an array of edible and ornamental plants. This would not only benefit local wildlife, but create more communal spaces, with a sense of shared ownership and reward.

In some areas, doing less is more to protect our scarce biodiversity. It perplexes and saddens me when I see cow parsley and hawthorn in full bloom, cut down from the verges of pathways. Of course we need to have some access, yet things do not have to be pristine. If plants are not invasive and are great for pollinators, why remove them? The black path on Argall Industrial Estate has a splendid strip of wildflowers that the council sowed, much to the joy of passersby and no doubt, wildlife.

Sadly, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Clearly we need to be doing much, much more than creating small Pocket Parks and sowing wildflowers.

The disastrous impact of climate change has to be stopped – but if we as a community can protect even a little of our natural environment, won’t we feel empowered to make a difference? Or at least, it may lessen the sense of despair about these very real environmental threats.

Not everyone wants to get their hands in the soil, but most enjoy being in a beautiful green space. By working more collaboratively and creatively, I really think that not only can our local environments be transformed, but so too can people.

Deborah works as a coordinator for Sprout There!, a horticultural project for people with learning disabilities. Learn more at Uniting Friends

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