White City Meanwhile Garden
We are telling inspiring stories of the people and communities who share our vision for every person to have access to environments that support healthy, balanced & environmentally aware lives in cities. Here we speak with volunteers who have opened up and invigorated a green tranquil space in the heart of a thriving but underserved community in west London. The space provides a Tranquil City Index score of 0.9, where some areas in the White City area score as low as 0.1! This means that the space provides a much-needed escape from very high noise levels (sometimes higher than 80 dBA), and high air pollution concentrations (sometimes over twice the WHO guideline thresholds) whilst encouraging contact with nature (up to 70% green and trees cover).
A few years ago, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council in west London announced plans for development in an area of land next to the White City Community Centre, in the heart of the White City housing estate – a thriving but underserved community. The land used to be a garden for the local over-50s club, but that closed over a decade ago and it became overgrown and inaccessible.
Whilst the council worked on development plans for the space, local resident Anne Macalpine suggested the space was reinvigorated in the interim to help with mental health issues arising from the pandemic. “The pandemic had a huge impact on our communities – mental health really took a hit. People were struggling and we just thought ‘We have to do something’” said Anne – who not only lives locally but is Director of the social enterprise Soup4Lunch, helping communities create kitchen gardens at local community centres.
In February 2021 volunteers were rounded up to clear the garden and started growing vegetables for the community. Then in September of the same year, community and environmental charity Groundwork got involved.
“The success of the garden relies on volunteers,” said Sara, a RHS qualified Horticultural Therapist, columnist and Community Gardener with Groundwork. “As well as local residents, we have corporate volunteers too – we couldn’t do it without them.” Volunteers from Kier Construction are diligently wheel-barrowing soil while Sara and I chat. There’s a large vat of hot water on the table ready to cater for tea breaks – an “essential part of the work here” I’m told
“As well as vegetables we have fruit trees, herbs and wildflowers and a wildlife corridor of brambles and nettles that we leave unkempt to encourage biodiversity. We hold community events in the summer and there’s an art element to the garden too,” – Sara points past my shoulder to a vibrant mosaic snail on the wall.
The art projects are run by local mosaic artist Emily Fuller, who is sat at a trestle table under a small pagoda built last year by volunteer Eammon to offer shelter from the elements. “We’re here all weathers!” says Sara.
Anna McCallion, a local artist, is sketching beautiful drawings of cuttings from the garden. “Nettles.” She says holding up her subject. “They’re fantastic to eat and good for the butterflies too.” When asked what she most enjoyed about coming to the garden, she said “Seeing plants develop brings so much enjoyment. You’ve planted it and nurtured it and made something grow. It’s also nice to get away and talk to someone.”
Head Gardener, Sean Connor, brings over some postcards of Anna’s paintings. “We held a fundraiser recently selling these. We had calendars too and jams and chutneys made from fruit we’ve grown here.”
Sean’s favourite part of the garden is the greenhouse. Built by Eammon, it’s his pride and joy. “In here, we’re growing pumpkins, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes…and much more”
After nearly two years, the future of the Meanwhile garden remains uncertain. The council’s development plans are still in the works but it’s clear that the community here won’t be supportive of losing this precious tranquil space in an area that desperately needs it.
This isn’t the first Meanwhile Garden. In fact, the first was only a stone’s throw away where a derelict, fenced-in piece of land in North Paddington was transformed into a community garden in 1976. The council had said that they wanted to develop the land in the future, but meanwhile, the community could use it – hence the name. 43 years later and the space still stands as a Meanwhile Garden enjoyed by the community despite the council’s ongoing desire to develop it. No doubt these are the hopes of Anne, Anna, Emily, Eammon, Sara, Sean and the hundreds more who enjoy the space.
The White City Meanwhile Garden is open for anyone on Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 am-1 pm every week and can be found behind the White City Community Centre on India Way, W12 7QT.
If you are part of a tranquil space in your neighbourhood, please get in touch with us via our contact form so we can feature your #TranquilStories in our next feature! Alternatively, if you’d like support to help revitalise a space, please do get in contact too.
The Tranquil City team