A community of railway cottages in an industrial heartland in Acton has transformed an urban space into a green haven, thanks to funding from a council scheme. You, too, could apply for money to improve a neglected corner of your neighbourhood.
The Island Triangle Residents’ Association (TITRA) won £75,000 from Ealing Council’s Transform Your Space fund to turn the fenced-off, fly-tipped eyesore in Stephenson Street into a popular Woodland Oasis project.
First, the residents had to raise £1,000 through crowdfunding. Then, helped by council park ranger Jon Staples and the larger funding, the residents set to work. An incredible 11 skips of rubbish, and an ugly stretch of fencing, were removed. Then contractors Ground Control were employed to carry out the vision of a leading landscape designer to revive the 110-metre strip of land.
Many edible plants were used to provide a harvest of produce for the community, including blackcurrants, strawberries and gooseberries; and trees will bear apples, kiwis, plums and pears. There is even a pecan tree.
It has made an enormous difference already – fly‑tipping has stopped and residents have been enjoying their new ‘forest garden’. Money has been set aside to maintain the area, to make sure it is a sustainable project.
‘We used to daydream about it’
Marisa Merry and Claire Physsas (pictured above) are at opposite ends of the scale in the close-knit community of around 200 Victorian homes. Whereas Marisa was the third generation of her family to live in the old railway workers’ cottages, Claire only moved in last year – and the Transform Your Space project was one of the reasons she and her husband were encouraged to do so.
Marisa said: “My grandad was a guard on the trains and moved in here, and then my dad was born here and, consequently, I grew up here too. It used to be more rural but it has long been an island surrounded by industry. We used to stand the other side of the fence and daydream about what this strip of land could become and I was determined to leave something green behind for future children to enjoy.”
Claire said: “Since moving in, my husband and I have had a son, Oscar. I walk him out here all the time – almost every day. I found out about the project and how active the residents were here and it made it an attractive place to move into. And we have seen the dramatic change that has taken place right on our doorstep. We are now surrounded by green, which is lovely.”
The Woodland Oasis was designed by celebrated landscape designer Cleve West, a multiple Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner. Marisa knew him professionally and approached him for advice. He did much more than that – he took a hands-on approach and even came down to help clear the space before work took place.
Transformed: From dumping ground to forest garden
“While neglected green spaces have a certain charm about them,” said Cleve. “The strip of land in Stephenson Street had become a dumping ground. The fact that this was the only green space in the neighbourhood made it even more precious for residents who wanted something more pleasant to look at and safer for their children to use.
“The idea of a forest garden was inspired by two or three existing apple trees and the hope that ‘edibles’ would engage a wider section of the community to perpetuate this urban oasis.
“Community gardens sound idyllic in theory but involve a lot of work behind the scenes to make them happen and a certain level of maintenance thereafter. All credit to the residents who came up with the idea and to Ealing Council for backing the project.
“The energy and drive behind the Woodland project has been fantastic and working with TITRA and the residents to realise the project has been an enriching experience.
“I look forward to seeing it grow and sharing a home-grown apple pie there soon.”
WHY NOT TRANSFORM YOUR SPACE?
Is there a dead-end road nearby blighted by anti-social behaviour? Or do you look out on to a strip of unused wasteland? Or perhaps there is an unloved patch you think has untapped potential?
The council’s third Transform Your Space project has a pot of £200,000 to help fund deserving plans for changing neglected spaces into places for the whole community to enjoy.
Residents are being asked to ‘think big’ again and present projects for consideration.
Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, cabinet member for transport, environment and leisure, said: “A great idea, plus excellent community spirit, plus our Transform Your Space funding pot; it all adds up to better community spaces everyone can enjoy. It’s a winning formula that’s already made an impact around the borough. Get in touch to find out more.”
To submit a project for Transform Your Space, or for advice on setting up a project in your area, visit the Bubble community website at www.DoSomethingGood.org.uk