The cluster of housing estates (Eric, Treby, Brokesley and Bede estates) south of Mile End Tube station in Tower Hamlets, was built about 40 years ago by the local council of the time. Next to no work has been done on these dwellings in that time.

In the last five years a Registered Social Landlord RSL-East End Homes- has taken responsibility for this cluster.

The homes are being brought up to ‘decent’ homes standards.

However, the larger picture is that this is one of the locations in which a chunk of the new housing required inLondoncan be created.

Already the existing population is over crowded and the area is ugly and denuded of pleasant door step space. The green spaces, such as they are, have been used as dog toilets and are not fit for any other use. There is no aesthetic pleasure to be found in the external spaces, therefore no association with the shared open spaces for play or parties or sitting and chatting. For a long time now in fact, the outdoor spaces have been used for drug dealing and violence. They have been places to get out of quickly.

One of our first pieces of work in the area was to gather some ‘stories of place’ and produce a set of cards ‘Greetings from Mile End’ http://www.theinternationale.com/PATHgreetings/ this was by way of a response to the current image of the area, probably best summed up in the Pulp song http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pulp/mileend.html

 

In March last year Kerrygold approached PATH asking for a proposal for a space that could be used to create an urban natural playspace. We suggested the main route through one of these estates;Eric Street. Kerrygold accepted the challenge and worked closely with PATH, EEH and the residents to design and create a community play garden. Within two months from the start to the end of the process, this Play garden was created. The budget was a £20k contribution from Kerrygold with a little less than that matched in kind from the RSL, estate contractors and PATH.

The flat, grim, soiled grass was transformed into a space with rolling hills planted with wildflowers (children cannot roll down hills inLondonfor fear of dog soiling and broken glass). There are borders planted with English wildflowers species, most planting found on housing estates are ‘defensive’ or hostile’ plants, Pyracanthus or Mahonia. These plants actively discourage any kind of interaction, (one does not nestle ones nose into a Mahonia to try and catch the smell of it for example.) There is a fruiting plum tree surrounded with picnic benches and tables and lit with fairy lights. It is unusual to find any seating offers in estates like these as they are viewed with suspicion…..’young people will come along and gather on them’. The benefits are of course that parents will sit and chat or share meals while their children play. The fairy lights not only add to the atmospheric lighting of the area, but make it beautiful to look out at, at night. This makes it a far more over looked space. We have a theory that it is impossible to deal drugs under fairy lights! The area has not been abused at all in the last year.

There are several raised growing beds which are shared by all the interested gardeners in the surrounding blocks and last but not least a life sized wooden cow! This was suggested as a sort of a joke, but also to ensure that the space had a playfully quirky atmosphere that sent out signifiers that this is a playable space for everyone around here from toddlers to elders.

PATH fundraised for playworkers to run sessions on this space once a week for the last year. These sessions have supported the community to use it as a play space and given the children the chance to step outside their flats and play with each other. Bengalis, French, African, White and Somali kids are all playing together and their parents are using these sessions as an excuse to get together and chat, forming new and unlikely friendships.

The Police who were sceptical about the success of this project have now whole heartedly endorsed it and any similar space that might be created on the estate.

The residents are using it for their own parties and for major events like Bengali Independence day (Tanya wore a sari over her jeans. ‘I want to join in but it’s too cold to wear just a sari!’)

There was also a big lunch there and a huge Royal Wedding Party. The diverse community all find what it has been lacking through this small space, and now the residents of this and the other Estates in this cluster want to see the remaining open spaces developed in the same way. They want contours and wildflowers, they want hedges not railings. They want to build aBee RoadlinkingMileEndParkon one side of them andTowerHamletsCemeteryParkon the other. (Both parks are happy to advise about the native plantings that could be used to make this effective.)

 

Carefully supported and created, all the other spaces on these impoverished estates could serve the same function as thisCommunityPlayGarden.  Some of the spaces are included in the regeneration budget. However, there are several significant exceptions to this principle and at least four areas within the cluster of estates need additional resources to match the requests of the residents revised aspirations for the spaces.

 

Outdoor areas will be increasingly important as new communities move into better, bigger, brand new accommodation. Without shared spaces fit for the children to play on and the adults to meet on, there will be no community building work possible. For so many reasons, this could prove to be an explosive situation with resentment and mistrust building very quickly to outright hostility. Unfortunately, this will appear to be focused around Muslim Bengali versus non Muslim Bengali.

PATH has a full time investment in working in this space for one year and  a three day a week investment there (unless additional funding is identified) for the following two years.

 

We see this as a great place to look at the long term impact of play in terms of ‘whole community’ phenomena, and we have some evidence of what the estate was like before our interventions. This makes the work a remarkable research study. We have documented every stage of the work to date and will continue to do so.

A long term  relationship with a corporate group would allow us to do another pioneering piece of work within the playworld in theUK.

We have long desired to try a local variation of the work that KaBOOM is doing in the untited states. www.kaboom.org

Our emphasis on the work would be to create natural playscapes with a play offer for the whole community rather than manufactured/ expensive bought equipment specifically for children.

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