Digging in to plant seeds of new community feeling

The borough is to get another community garden, this time in Birdhurst Avenue off Coombe Road in South Croydon. Ahead of the celebrity official opening on Saturday, HILARY GEE outlines the neighbours’ hard work

This time last year, the green areas of Birdhurst Avenue were overgrown and neglected, encouraging fly-tipping and creating an unsafe environment. But what was worse was the lack of sense of community in our street.

Work to be done: the "green" area in Birdhurst Avenue, before the neighbours got to work to turn it into a worthwhile garden

Work to be done: the overgrown, “green” area in Birdhurst Avenue, before the neighbours got to work to turn it into a worthwhile garden

It all started to change with the initiative of a few neighbours last autumn. A  grant was awarded by the council for the idea of “improving the community by improving the green areas”.

A few months later, the Birdhurst Community Gardens are going to be officially opened at 3pm this Saturday, July 13 by the “plant hunter”, gardening celebrity Tom Hart-Dyke, as a celebration of what communities can deliver when they decide to work together.

It has been an incredible journey. From a quick conversation on the doorstep between two neighbours about the unsafe state of the green areas leading to the station, to the “Grand Opening” of an eclectic space composed of a Japanese-inspired garden, children’s experimental gardens, heather and herb rockeries and community herb garden.

“The first seed” was the vision that things could be different and better, especially after the negative impact that events which happened in Croydon in the summer of 2011 had left on us. Then we had an informal door-to-door consultation (in other words “a chat”) with the neighbours to hear their views, and in many cases to introduce ourselves for the first time.

Transformed: one part of the public area in the Birdhurst Avenue gardens, transformed in Japanese style

Transformed: one part of the public area in the Birdhurst Avenue gardens, transformed in Japanese style

We followed the recommendation from our local Croham councillor Michael Neal to apply for a grant to Croydon Council; then South Croydon Community Association stepped in to help us with the application and other admin stuff. When we finally got the good news that our project had won a grant of £5,000, there was no way back. We had to make it happen.

Leaflets were sent, consultation questionnaires distributed, meetings held… and slowly, very slowly, the seed of our idea started growing in our community.

The work started on May 11 this year. We started with the Community Herb Garden that the majority of neighbours seemed to want. As soon as we started working on the day, a number of neighbours who we hadn’t seen or met before started join us, with tools in their hands, ready to contribute to the project. Some other neighbours were helping in different ways like coming to offer food or drinks, offering tools or simply offering space in their garages to store tools.

On that first day, while chatting and working with our neighbours, we already knew that this project was worth it and that our small community had already changed.

The gardens don’t look anything like our original plans as they have taken the shape of whoever was working on the day. Every different problem encountered while working on it brought a new idea that was immediately implemented. The final outcome has surprised us too.

We are proud of what we have achieved. What you will see is the result of a lot of effort, shared knowledge, shared creativity, skills and ideas but also the reflection of our rich multi-cultural neighbourhood. Our street is not just “a street” anymore, it is a community where children have discovered new friends and parents feel it’s a safe environment for them, where people know each others’ names and you talk to when coming back from work.

Francis, one of the local residents, said, “I never dreamt that something like this would happen in my street.” Rahul, a seven-year-old boy whose family lives on our road, said,  “I want the Birdhurst gardening project to carry on forever”.

That’s what we hope, too.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Digging in to plant seeds of new community feeling

  1. What a worthwhile project! Good luck and best wishes to everyone involved!

  2. Went to Birdhurst Community Gardens’ official grand opening ceremony today. As somebody who is a member of South Croydon Community Association but who lives on the edge of the area right on the border with Purley, congratulations to all involved and on a wonderful day today (July 13th 2013) and may your community spirit empower others in the Borough to do likewise with their own community projects!

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