Saturday, 3 September 2011

Marchmont Community Garden: London's new green enclave

The band played. People clapped. A dog barked. Bees buzzed on freshly planted lavender. The September morning sun smiled and bounced off the new garden's white walls. 
Normally, I go to Marchmont Street to get my haircut at Gino. But this morning I attended the official opening of the Marchmont Community Garden, the first new public garden to be created in the north London borough of Camden for over 200 years.
Rosa, 71, originally from Portugal but now a long-standing Kings Cross-Brunswick resident, proudly showed me some of the flowers that she and other local people had planted.
   Volunteers, including elderly people and several children, have played a big part in the new garden's planning, design and planting. Thirty more people signed up this morning to help maintain the garden's future.
   "This garden is for the people who live in this area," said Rosa. "It gives us somewhere nearby our homes to go and get some fresh air."
   Frank Dobson, the effervescent MP for Holborn & St. Pancras, declared the community garden open when he unveiled a commemorative plaque. Rupert Everett, an actor, planted a tree. Tulip Siddiq, an aptly named Camden councillor, formally welcomed local people. 

"Professionals once called this land a piece of Slap, or Spare Land After Planning," said Dobson. "Now, local people have turned it into a useful garden for people and children to come and enjoy themselves."
   The garden is owned and managed by local people. The lease is owned by the King's Cross/Brunswick Neighbourhood Community Association, an organisation I happily worked for during the mid-1980s.
   The Marchmont Association initiated the project and dug up the funds, including a £100,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund. Another £40,000 came from Camden Council's 'Section 106' pot - contributions paid by developers to offset the impact of their developments on local infrastructure. Local businesses also generously donated.
   Why did the garden cost this much? Marchmont Association chair Ricci de Freitas explained the site for the garden needed raising to a level so it could sit above utility equipment and be accessible to Marchmont Street and Kenton Street. Thanks entirely to the garden, these streets are now connected for pedestrians.
The association appointed the Architects Network to work closely with local people to bring the garden to life. J. Murphy & Sons Ltd were the main building contractors.
   Local people will manage the garden's future through the Marchmont Community Garden Partnership. The board includes the Brunswick Tenants & Residents Association, London Wildlife Trust,  Camden Housing, a Bloomsbury Ward councillor and local residents.
  The planning gap between the older terrace and a 1970s development has now been filled. A great deal of hard work and effort by local people has paid off. Local people now have both a sun-filled and shaded ornamental garden where they can sit and relax or walk through from dawn till dusk. (Image below shows how the site looked for decades).
The idea for a community garden came several years before national politicians suddenly began spouting 'localism', 'neighbourhood planning' and 'Big Society'. People were already  engaged in this kind of local activity - as the garden shows.
  "This garden is a real manifestation of the commitment that people in this area have got," said Dobson.
At that point, Dobson grinned and the sun flared off his trademark white beard.  The 30-piece Lambeth Wind Orchestra struck up the theme tune of the BBC's famous Ground Force team of garden transformers.
    I couldn't help but chuckle. The BBC's garden gang wasn't needed.
   The good people of Marchmont Land have transformed this part of their neighbourhood through their own impressive victorious dig. If you're ever in the area, visit the garden and see for yourself what can be done.

If you'd like to volunteer or help with the Marchmont Community Garden, please contact the Marchmont Association.

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-usage without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, September 2011.


Graham Newsome RIBA said...

Architects Network Ltd wish the volunteers and users of Marchmont Community Garden many hours of contemplation and enjoyable gardening in their new haven. Congratulations to all involved in supporting and realising this project. Graham Newsome, Architects Network Ltd.

Tulip Siddiq said...

Great pictures! Hope you enjoyed the day. Tulip