In 2011, The Conservation Volunteers [TCV] worked with The London Borough of Bromley and corporate sponsor, The Glades to kick-start the transformation of a neglected park called Winsford Gardens situated off a busy main road running from Penge, at the north end of the borough, towards Croydon. The previously private gardens had been bequeathed to the borough in the 1960s. TCV established a ‘green gym’ in the small park with the aim of attracting local volunteers to come to the open space for weekly practical gardening and conservation sessions.
Green Gyms aim to improve individuals’ physical and mental health so they can play a greater role in their community; and enable volunteers to learn new skills and gain knowledge in practical environmental skills and wider social skills. At the same time, the activities undertaken in the local park were geared towards conserving and improving Winsford Gardens in a sustainable way to increase biodiversity for wildlife and make the open space a safe and welcoming environment for local people to enjoy.
The work of Penge Green Gym Community Group
In 2013, Penge Green Gym Community Group [also known as The Friends of Winsford Gardens] was established as an independent group of local volunteers. Since that time, we have continued to improve the park, in sustainable ways. For example, we have: built a series of compost bins for recycling green waste; created leaf-mulching bays to hold the annual ‘leaf fall’; established a growing area with a series of cold frames in which to ‘grow on’ seedlings and cuttings to re-stock borders. We have transformed neglected areas of the gardens through, for example, planting-up native hedging around the perimeter of the gardens [formerly edged in concrete fencing] to attract a wide range of birds and insects; turning a disused and broken pond system into a bog garden; re-stocking formal rose beds; creating wildflower meadows and an urban orchard. And to make the whole area a more welcoming and safe environment for locals we have: created a children’s play area and two natural seating areas; improved sight-lines around the gardens through judicious pruning of shrubs, bushes and roses; re-established herbaceous borders with a mix of spring bulbs, perennials and annuals attractive to pollinators. We have also installed some durable raised beds around the open space, and replaced the signage at both entrances to the gardens [with help from a local business].
There are now many more regular visitors to the gardens [families, office workers, dog walkers, children from local nurseries]; these folk, and those who come to our annual Open Days are always very complimentary about the work our resilient group of volunteers are doing in the park – transforming it from a run-down and neglected open space into a welcoming ‘oasis of calm’. Our efforts have been recognised locally [eg through Penge in Bloom awards] and nationally [eg through Keep Britain Tidy Community Green Flag awards]
Brenda Little, Chair, Penge Green Gym Community Group/Friends of Winsford Gardens [www.pengegreengym.org.uk]; follow us on twitter, @greengympenge and facebook penge green gym.