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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2018

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Environment

Let’s have an incredible edible Camberwell

The Camberwell Community Council meeting on 18 November included a discussion on green spaces.

It was very cheering to hear from so many ‘Friends of’: there were representatives from the Friends of Burgess Park, Camberwell Green, Green Dale, Lucas Gardens, Stanswood Gardens, Benhill Nature Reserve and others. These groups are organised by volunteers and work with the dedicated staff of the council’s Parks and Ecology departments, often juggling fundraising, project management and making sure that everyone can enjoy the spaces harmoniously, alongside taking practical care of plants and trees, playgrounds and wildlife.

Ecology Officer Jon Best gave a brief but impressive presentation on the diversity of wildlife in Southwark, including birds, bats and stag beetles, and some of the measures taken to protect them. In the case of stag beetles, for example, that means providing ‘hotels’ of wood that’s allowed to decay, providing a space for the grubs to spend their early years before they emerge in armoured splendour.

cherry2013
Cherry tree in Camberwell Orchard

Eleanor Margolies asked a question about a green space that no longer exists – Camberwell Orchard. While welcoming the new Camberwell library, she noted that a significant number of trees and fruit bushes had been lost as a result of building on this site. When Camberwell Magistrates’ Court was built in 1970, it was on the site of allotments. An alternative site for 32 allotments was therefore provided (next to Lettsom Community Gardens). She asked whether the council had plans to – or would commit to – replace the food growing space that the orchard had provided.

It was deeply disappointing to hear Cllr Barrie Hargrove repeat the canard that Camberwell Orchard had been of no ecological or social value: ‘Some people call a mouldy plum tree an orchard; I don’t,’ he said.

An independent arboricultural assessment of the orchard commissioned by the council noted two fine silver maples, along with 28 mature fruit trees – fig, cherry, pear and plum – as well as blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes. A CAVAT assessment of the value of the trees gave the orchard a financial value in the region of £608,000.

Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013
Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013

In his response to the question, Cllr Mark Williams mentioned council plans for tree planting on Lomond Grove, an area to be added to the footprint of Camberwell Green, and the potential to reclaim some space behind Camberwell Magistrate’s Court from the highway, but he didn’t address the question of food growing. Cllr Hargrove was clearly piqued by the reminder of the lost orchard, saying ‘we shouldn’t look back’.  But talking about urban food growing is not looking back: it is looking towards a sustainable future.

For example, Incredible Edible Todmorden is an urban gardening project which has transformed a town in Yorkshire – building community, public health and sustainability. Its membership requirements are simple: If you eat you’re in.’

In Southwark, architects and local residents Katrin Bohm and Andre Viljoen have written about integrating urban agriculture into urban planning and its environmental, economic and social benefits.

Viljoen teaches architecture at the University of Brighton. In June 2015, at an inspiring event organised by Peckham Vision, 12 master of architecture students from the university showed their plans for how food growing might be integrated into a dense urban area, helping to make Southwark more resilient by providing its own food, making use of its food waste as compost, purifying its own water and so on. Their ideas were based on a period of intense research into the actual conditions of Peckham: where are there unused spaces between buildings? what do people here like to eat? who might be interested in fish-farming, growing herbs or cooking with local produce? They are bold ideas but thoroughly researched and achievable with investment and vision.

In contrast, asking the council to commit to replacing the food growing opportunities provided by Camberwell Orchard is not a huge request. Trees and bushes could be planted in small pockets and corridors around Camberwell.

A commitment to providing at least as many fruit trees and bushes as were lost at Camberwell would show that the councillors understand the importance of urban food growing.

Other residents at the meeting asked about:

  • how to make sure that contractors don’t chop back shrubs when they are flowering or covered with berries essential to wildlife.
  • how to make sure that trees planted by Southwark Council are looked after and survive to maturity.  A resident described how trees planted by the council on the Elmington Estate had died in their first hot summer because they were not watered by contractors.
  • how to make sure that volunteers’ work on parks and green spaces is protected by the council for the long term benefit of all.

Afterwards, Eleanor suggested one possible location for food growing to Councillor Hargrove. Low maintenance raspberries and currant bushes could be planted in raised beds on Daneville Road (behind Morrison’s in Camberwell). This street is open for pedestrians and cyclists but closed to cars. Some trees have been planted along the centre of the road – but it’s still dominated by tarmac.

What do you think? What are your suggestions for edible planting in South Camberwell?

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Eleanor Margolies shines at South Camberwell hustings

A councillor-worthy performance at the hustings on 8 October saw Green Party candidate Eleanor Margolies’ odds for winning the by-election slashed, while Labour party candidate Octavia Lamb struggled to make an impact.

Photo of the hustings panel
Eleanor Margolies, Octavia Lamb, Linda Craig, Ben Maitland, Chris Mottau, Stephen Govier

All five candidates in the South Camberwell by-election participated in the well-attended hustings at the Albrighton Centre, expertly chaired by Linda Craig. The candidates responded to questions from the audience about the Dulwich Hamlet FC grounds, the future of Peckham Rye station and what they would do first, once elected.

It was pleasing to see that all candidates had good knowledge of local issues and that there was common ground on many themes. Fascinatingly, even Conservative candidate Chris Mottau spoke out in favour of divesting Southwark Council’s pension funds from fossil fuels, after Eleanor Margolies raised this in her opening presentation. Octavia Lamb, last to speak on this subject, could only offer that she “personally” supported the aims of Fossil Free Southwark, but did not say how she would persuade her Labour colleagues at the council, who have so far ignored calls for divestment.

Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Maitland and the All People’s Party’s Stephen Govier repeatedly stated that Southwark Council does not need another Labour councillor, while Chris Mottau compared the Labour dominance on the council to a one-party state. Eleanor Margolies quoted a report from the Electoral Reform Society raising concern about the integrity of councils where one party holds on to power for a long time. She cited the achievements of Green councillors on councils in Lambeth and Lewisham, as well as the Green Party’s success in getting Southwark to pay its staff London Living Wage – highlighting the difference that one Green councillor can make.

Eleanor Margolies speaking at the hustings
Eleanor Margolies at the South Camberwell hustings

Throughout the evening there was no convincing argument from Octavia Lamb to persuade the audience of the need to elect another Labour councillor on top of the 47 already there. She stated that she was passionate about casework, and that it was important to consult with the community. When the council’s track record on communication with citizens was raised, she could only concede that there was room for improvement, while Eleanor Margolies offered several constructive suggestions on how Southwark Council could provide a better service.

South Camberwell has an interesting by-election ahead. These hustings have certainly given voters something to think about.

Text by Remco van der Stoep. Photos by Nick Hooper.

Green books for young readers?

A young Viking wearing a horned helmet answered the door to us in South Camberwell today. She is a fan of Cressida Cowell’s series of dragon books, beginning with How to Train Your Dragon. I’ve just been introduced to these books by my nephew and it turned out that we’d all been to a fab talk Cressida Cowell gave last week, put on by a local independent bookshop, Village Books.

The Viking’s dad pointed out the rich theme of environmental thinking that develops through the series: the dragons are creatures that are (somewhat) tamed by the Vikings, living alongside humans, but in our time they have disappeared from the world – why?

In the first book, an impossibly large dragon explains the food chain that links all human and animal life:

The thing is, we are all, in a sense, supper. Walking, talking, breathing suppers, that’s what we are. Take you, for instance. YOU are about to be eaten by ME, so that makes you supper. That’s obvious. But even a murderous carnivore like myself will be a supper for worms one day. We’re all snatching precious moments from the peaceful jaws of time,’ said the Dragon cheerfully.

Anyway, our conversation with the Viking and her dad got us thinking about all kinds of things including local currencies like the Brixton Brick, urban wind turbines, and environmental themes in children’s books. Here is the beginning of a list, off the top of my head:

  • I love the picture book, Michael Bird-Boy by Tomie dePaola (1975) which touches on air pollution and the importance of bees.
  • In Old Macdonald Had An Apartment House (1969) by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, a caretaker of a city apartment block decides to grow tomatoes, cabbages and carrots in empty rooms. The comical black and white drawings gradually take on colour as the vegetables flourish. It is, as the blurb says, ‘a celebration of cities, human ingenuity, and of course — vegetables!’
  • ‘I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees!’ in The Lorax by Dr Seuss. A stage adaption is coming to The Old Vic in December.

I also enjoyed these two (rather bleak) visions of the future (for teenagers):

  •  The Ennead by Jan Mark (1978) is set on a planet that was a haven for refugees from a dying Earth, but where virtually nothing grows. Wood and grass becomes coveted luxuries. Jan Mark is a brilliant writer and explores the social and political dimensions of environmental destruction and scarcity.
  • The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (2008) tells the story of the introduction of carbon rationing in the UK. It’s great for thinking through how people might actually feel about carbon allowances, smart meters that cut off the power… and it’s set in South London! When it was published,  2015 was The Future. I guess I should catch up with the sequel The Carbon Diaries 2017 before the future catches up with me….

There’s a nice article by Alice Bell about children’s literature and environment in the book Culture and Climate Change: Narratives which can be downloaded from here.

Bell discusses superhero books like Jonathon Porrit’s Captain Eco and the Fate of the Earth (1991) and the more tongue-in-cheek Your Planet Needs You! A Kid’s Guide to Going Green by Dave Reay (2009) in which a group of kids and their teacher have to explain global warming to the so-called superhero.

Which green books would you recommend to young readers?

 

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