Reporter James Cracknell meets some of the people working to help make Waltham Forest a greener borough…
Concealed by a footbridge and a railway line in Leytonstone is a green oasis producing nearly every fruit or vegetable you could wish to eat.
Amid the rumbling and screeching of the adjacent Central Line grows sweetcorn, squash, spring onion, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, callaloo, gooseberries, kale, pak choi, brocoli, beetroot, carrots, radishes, plums, apples, apricots, mint, sage, rosemary, lime, rhubarb and courgettes.
To name a few.
This is the Church Lane Community Garden, run by a group of volunteers from Transition Leytonstone.
Using a derelict triangle of land owned by Waltham Forest Council, over three years they have created a thriving green space that can be used to help educate and inspire local people. It is open to the public every Tuesday and Saturday, and if you’re lucky there’ll be some fresh produce you can take home.
There are regular workshops to attend and there’s usually a project or two you can get involved with. Rain water is harvested and reused, while a solar dryer helps preserve the garden’s produce.
When I visited, garden co-ordinator Shannon Thaden and volunteer Phil Mason showed me around – and let me sample the delicious organic scrumpy they’d made using the garden’s cider press.
“Because it is quite small it is not going to produce a substantial amount of food,” said Shannon, “but as an education space and something to inspire people to grow food and change the way people shop it is a great way to do it.
“People in London don’t often have the space to grow their own food now but there are many benefits to doing it.
“It improves public health but also it is a social resource. People who are new to the neighbourhood can meet people through the garden.”
The Church Lane Community Garden is a centre of activity for Transition Leytonstone, a green group aiming to help the community become self-reliant and sustainable – a transition away from fossil fuels.
It is part of the Transition Network and one of 479 such initiatives around the world that have all sprung up over the past decade.
Phil explained more. He said: “The Transition movement is summed up by the mantra ‘think global act local’.
“A lot of the things you can do to mitigate your carbon footprint, which has a global impact, are on the local level.
“As a Transition Town we have helped people insulate their homes, support the local economy, support local growers, and here we grow food ourselves.
“If there are people who have ideas on localising food and being more efficient and helping with the transition to a more sustainable community they are very welcome to join us.
“A lot of people ignore the issues around sustainability because they think there is nothing they can do about it, but there are a lot of things that can be done and we are showing that.
“There isn’t one big solution to it all, there are thousands of small solutions.”
Transition Leytonstone is just one of several successful green groups in the borough. While they might be run separately, many are interconnected and share resources.
A weekly food stall in Leytonstone is run jointly by Transition Leytonstone and Organiclea, a community food project based at Hawkwood Nursery in Chingford. The stall sells organic fruit and veg grown at the nursery, by other local growers in the borough, or by farmers dotted around the English countryside.
Volunteer Rosemary Warrington helps out at the stall on Saturdays, outside Matalan in the High Road. She said: “The supplies for the stalls all come from organic growers. One function is to publicise our veg box scheme where we deliver food to people’s doors each week.”
You might have already seen Organiclea delivering veg boxes in its striking mode of transport – an old milk float using a battery charged by solar panels.
Rosemary adds: “There’s also a crop share scheme for local growers who have got an excess amount of produce to swap for someone else’s.”
The Leytonstone stall is one of two run by Organiclea, the other’s in Walthamstow outside the Hornbeam Centre, a hub for community groups in Waltham Forest.
Among the local organisations that use the centre for meetings and activities are Waltham Forest Friends of the Earth, Forest Recycling Project, Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign, as well as Organiclea.
There’s also a vegetarian cafe and a series of events that includes live music and skills workshops. One of Hornbeam’s directors, Brian Kelly, told me how it came to play such a pivotal role. “It started as a fire-damaged building,” he said.
“It was taken on around 25 years ago and reopened as an environmental centre and cafe.
“In the last five or six years it has become much more active and the cafe is very busy. The hope is that Hornbeam can be used as a space for groups to connect and move forward. Most of them have an environmental focus.
“We also want to run our own projects. We are currently developing something around low-cost living.”
Whether it’s Transition Leytonstone, Organiclea, the Hornbeam, or any of the other community organisations in the borough, there’s plenty going on in Waltham Forest to keep any green-fingered, or green-minded, resident happy.
Greenpeace Waltham Forest
Meetings held every second Wednesday of the month at Ye Olde Rose & Crown, 55 Hoe Street, at 7.30pm
Waltham Forest Friends of the Earth
Meetings held every third Tues of the month at Ye Olde Rose & Crown, 55 Hoe Street, at 8pm