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 Rosie Whicheloe, one of the core trustees who has helped to open up and rejuvenate a green tranquil space in East London, 2 minutes away from the Elizabeth Line at Manor Park. The space provides a Tranquil City Index score of 90%, where some areas in the Manor Park area score 20%! This means that the space provides significant opportunities for experiencing tranquillity, despite being in a very busy area.
A few years ago, many locals were under the illusion that Manor Park Community Garden was a forgotten space. “I would walk past the site every day on the way to the station. The site looked a bit neglected and seemed as if it would be lost” said Rosie. Successfully hustling some money from Newham Council’s Section 106 funding in 2020, local residents have managed to change its fate, unlocking a new lease of life in the space. “The community garden in its current form has been a wonderful experience but hard work,” said Rosie. Manor Park Community Garden started off with a small volunteer team of five which would come in every Saturday. Since then, an opening and closing team has also been established, allowing the community garden to be open to the public all week.
“The garden is tiny but well-designed”. Since the new lease of funding, multiple uses have flourished in the space. “There’s lots of seating; you can sit within the flowers and have lunch”. In the greenhouse, local residents and visitors can grow fruit, vegetables and herbs. “The best thing is seeing people’s eyes light up when they see the aubergines! People talk about the vegetables and recipes they cook with”. The gardening activities at Manor Park Community Garden have gained real traction, sparking new conversations, connections, and a sense of mutuality and respect amongst locals. Amongst yoga classes and school visits, the garden also runs toddler classes every Friday. “There is very little play space for children in Manor Park, with most people using facilities elsewhere in Waltham Forest and Forest Gate”, Rosie expressed. Reflecting upon creative improvisations in the space, she said “the kids absolutely love the watering cans here!”
Whilst celebrating the multifunctionality of Manor Park Community Garden, Rosie & I also spoke about the challenges of managing diverse community uses. “Gardens are often seen as event spaces and having lots of different people in the garden can be pretty intense”. Pausing for a moment, Rosie said that “creating tranquillity involves respecting the different needs and different ways of using a community garden”. We agreed that urban planners and architects can sometimes be prescriptive when designing green spaces, assuming how people would want to use the space. “Tranquillity means loosening control and embracing the different types of community uses, whether it’s simply reading a book or convening with others in the space”, she joyfully explained. “Gardens do not need to be fancy or groundbreaking to be appreciated by locals…!”.
Acknowledging the site’s evolution in its second year, it is needless to say that the future of the Manor Park Community Garden seems bright. The site is treasured at the hyperlocal level, fostering new encounters and connections amongst old residents, newer residents and curious people walking past the gates every day. The Mayor of Newham, Roksanna Fiaz, also frequently visits the site supporting local events and activities. Concluding the interview, Rosie enthused that “tranquil spaces are the enigma of the city”. Alongside providing a space for enjoyment and ecological richness, she suggested that they offer dynamic ideas for how to go about revitalizing idle spaces in cities.
The Manor Park Community Garden is open for anyone on Mondays – Fridays, 10am – 4pm every week and can be found at the Eastern end of Durham Road, a 2 minute walk from Manor Park Station, E12 5EP.
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.
Author(s): Chloe McFarlane