Regular readers will have by now picked up on the fact that I’m a champion of the borough’s parks and open spaces. They are very dear to my heart. I admit that my time served as Cabinet Member with responsibility for our great green spaces has given me some real insight and appreciation into just how valuable they are and the hard work and care that goes into maintaining them.
When you’re such a small, densely packed borough as ours you have to cherish your outdoor space. We simply don’t have a lot of it. And if it hadn’t been for the vision and drive of one man 40 years ago we’d have even less.
I had the pleasure of attending an event recently to mark the 40th anniversary of the evocatively named Meanwhile Gardens in North Kensington. These wonderful gardens owe their existence to the drive of Jamie McCullough, a sculptor who wanted to see if some derelict land could be turned into a park. At the time, this particular piece of our turf fell under Westminster Council’s jurisdiction and they decided that temporary permission could be given for the gardens – which gave rise to the name ‘Meanwhile’.
Much has happened in the following years. The gardens have taken root and now fall in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The space is run by local residents in the shape of the Meanwhile Gardens Community Association with support from the Council.
The recent celebrations saw the Mayor, Cllr Mrs Elizabeth Rutherford, reopen a renovated scented courtyard garden. This is far removed from the rubble that Jim McCullough set about transforming. I was very pleased to be able to offer my heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers and Council staff who work so hard to keep Meanwhile Gardens looking magnificent.
There is something for everyone at Meanwhile Gardens. It’s a quiet oasis for those who want to sit and reflect. It gives people a chance to get stuck into the many tasks that go into keeping the gardens looking so good. And for the more energetic, it’s a space to try out their skateboarding skills.
The four-acre site has flourished in its 40 years. Today the Playhut offers stimulating play and learning to help younger children and bring those looking after them together. There is also a wildlife garden project run by Kensington & Chelsea Mind, which works with adults who have mental health difficulties, using horticulture to help them with recovery and social integration.
I think Jim McCullough showed just what can be done by residents with vision and determination and a council that wants to help. Today, on a smaller scale, inevitably given the astronomical value of land in the borough, we are still looking to turn small plots of unused or neglected land into green space. Our Community Kitchen Gardens allow residents to grow their own food across the borough. Many of these too are temporary – just like Meanwhile Gardens once was. Perhaps a future leader of the Council will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of one of these plots. I hope so.