Luke or “Duke” as he is better known, is a gardening aficionado and Lead of Noel Park, North London. Find out how his nature reserve project has helped neighbours come together to improve their local community space.
Duke, tell us about this project. How long have you been doing this and when did you start?
A few months ago, I was approached by a representative of Team Noel Park (an employee of the council) and discussed the possibility of creating a nature reserve within the local area. As a partner with the Noel Park Big Local that leads the Green Spaces Project, proprietor of Dukes Gardens; a local gardening business, and Chairman of GrowN22; a local non profit organisation managing green Spaces in Haringey, I literally jumped at the chance to project manage the land. The Westbury Banks Nature Reserve was a disused piece of land left over from the Noel Park railway, essentially it’s a bank. Over time, it became derelict and unfortunately a fly tipping hotspot. The plan is to clean the site and establish a functional nature reserve. I have spent the past three months planning and more recently working on the site with Clean Up UK and neighbours on Nextdoor.
What kinds of activity are your neighbours helping with?
As the reserve has been derelict for some time, the top priority has been to clean the site by litter picking and removing all rubbish. Unfortunately, the site was used by drug users and we have made a real effort to dispose of any needles using a needle box and destroying them in the correct manner. Neighbours have come together to collect litter and clear the overgrowth, which has enabled us to construct the log path and stairway. As we’ve worked together, we’ve discussed lots of exciting projects planned for the reserve and these include a potential composting site, an amphibious area with a pond, insect motels, wildlife and plant species cataloguing as well as a mural from a local artist!
Did you need any special planning permissions from the council?
Yes, I had to get written permission from Haringey Council to act as the project manager and sought permission from the Highways agency to install a storage unit for community tools. I had to get insurance for anyone working on the site and I did this via TCV (https://www.tcv.org.uk/). The insurance covers anyone engaged in any work whilst on site. Also, anyone that visits the site must sign in in case of any emergencies.
So, do neighbours need to bring tools and special equipment to participate?
We recommend neighbours wear comfortable clothing, bring gloves and ideally boots but it’s not essential. We have tools on site which include spades, shovels, secateurs, litter pickers, bin bags and hoes. If neighbours have tools and can bring them, they are very welcome too. We really needed a wheelbarrow last week!
If someone can’t make every Sunday, do you give them extra hard work the next time they come?!
Absolutely not, I believe people of all walks of life can provide various skills that would be beneficial to the site and to other people to learn about different things. So no matter what skill set you have there is and will be various things for people to do! This way, I believe that nobody will feel left out and they would be comfortable in what they are doing – it’s such a nice way to meet people locally.
Why is it important for the community to get involved with this project?
The Westbury Banks Nature Reserve is a community lead project and a green space for the Noel Park estate and beyond! Environmentally, I would encourage anyone to take more notice of their surroundings and look after what they have before it’s too late!
How can Nextdoor help you?
Nextdoor has provided me with a tool to contact people that live nearby about something I think is important and that they could very easily become involved in. It’s easy to use, I just post an event and attach photos to a post to keep neighbours up to date. We’ve received plenty of support.
If someone were reading this and wanted to start their own project, what advice would you give them?
I would dedicate a lot of time to research and planning. Ensure you cover everything prior to doing any work on a site. Ensure you have written permission from your local authority. Engage the local community to judge interest levels. Make sure your covered with the correct insurance – TCV (https://www.tcv.org.uk/) is a great starting point! Look into various funding and pick whichever is suitable. Finally, stick with your project, devise a plan and slowly but surely the community will come together to help make your project a success. Good luck everyone!