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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2017

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History

Countryside in our city

Photo of grassy meadow with trees in background, blue sky and clouds

‘It’s not under lock and key… a place like this is really important. We need a countryside in our city.’ (SE22 resident who visits Green Dale a couple of times a week to play football on the astroturf.)

‘It isn’t a regimented park… it is scruffy and governed by natural cycles. All the wildlife that is here. Incredible to have this space.’ (SE15 residents, daily visitors to Green Dale to walk the dog.)

I was very moved to read these comments made by local residents about Green Dale Fields, the open space that runs between Sainsbury’s/Champion Hill stadium and the Green Dale cycle/footpath. Volunteers from the Friends of Green Dale carried out an all-day survey of 50 people who used or walked through Green Dale on Sunday 18 June.

A third of people surveyed use Green Dale to walk their dogs, while others use it for football on the astroturf, cycling, tennis and exercising. Anyone can turn up and play on the astroturf pitches – there’s no fee or booking system.

People walking through said they were on their way to places including Dulwich Picture Gallery. As a child, the poet Robert Browning used to walk to the gallery from his home on the corner of Coleman Road and Southampton Way. (A plaque above the dry-cleaner’s at 179 Southampton Way marks the spot.) He described it as ‘a green half-hour’s walk over the fields’, and on Green Dale you can imagine what that would have been like in the 1820s.

Other reasons for being there that Sunday included sunbathing, birdwatching, enjoying the peace and quiet – and collecting long grass for a guinea pig!

Chris Rowse, Chair of Friends of Green Dale, noted that people appreciate Green Dale’s unspoilt character and most said they preferred it to a more ‘manicured’ park: ‘People enjoy the wide open space and wild greenery’.

I love classic Victorian parks like Brunswick Park, Myatt’s Fields and Ruskin Park. They have an incredible density of different things happening at the same time – tennis, the splash pool, picnics and football. But it is also vitally important to have access to wilder spaces. On Green Dale, you can pick blackberries from the bramble hedges; older children can discover the simple pleasures of hanging out in nature; and birds, bats, frogs, and hedgehogs thrive, a short but significant distance away from streetlights and the noise of cars.

‘It feels wild and beautiful.’

‘Tranquillity in the city.’

If you want evidence of the benefits for mental and physical health of green spaces in cities, there’s lots collected here by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. But the comments collected in the Green Dale Survey Report are rich and personal  and I’m very grateful that the Friends spent a day talking to people about how they feel about Green Dale.

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Bike your way IN to history

Ever wondered about the names of Calais Road, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill or Delft Way? Did you know that Camberwell had a thriving German population in the 19th century, supporting bakeries, a German church and visiting composers? Or that a community of French Huguenot refugees settled here? Have you spotted the Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Camberwell New Road? Ever bought Cypriot pastries in SE5 or French chocolate in SE15?

In June 2016, participants on a cycle ride led by Eleanor Margolies uncovered the European history of Camberwell and Peckham. They began under Peckham Arch, cycled to look at the mural of the ‘Camberwell Beauty’ butterfly (an immigrant from Scandinavia), visited the park that the French Huguenot Minet family donated to the people of Camberwell, looked at the remnants of grand mansions built by German residents (a portico now part of Ruskin Park; the Platanes, now student residences for King’s College London) and ended at the French chocolatier Melange on Maxted Road.

Some of the sites visited were described in a 2007 article for Camberwell Renewal.

 

camberwell-immigration-2007 camberwell-immigration2007b

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