It’s amazing what you can do to bring a bit of nature into the lives of people who’ve been disconnected from it. You can read about the benefits of time spent with nature, but when you actually see it in front of you it’s truly magical.
A patch of neglected rough grass, covered with litter, in a street largely devoid of anything green. In a community feeling starved of investment. Where children grow up fast. A space that, with imagination, can be anything you want it to be.
So, how about a new pocket park? With a beautiful showy display of flowering plants? Plants that are irresistible to butterflies and bees. A pollinator park to provide a stunning visual display, every day. In the heart of inner-city Peterborough? Why not!
Yes, there were times when it seemed a crazy idea. That it wouldn’t work. That local people wouldn’t get it. Perhaps I under-estimated how much my obsessive belief in the project would rub off on and enthuse local people. It has worked, it looks absolutely amazing, and there’s a whole new community of conservationists growing with it. By aiming high, doing things properly to a high specification with brilliant people who loved the project, and maxing-out on the best plants; it’s been possible to create that real ‘wow’ factor.
To quote one local mother, whose children now play in the park, ‘things like this don’t happen around here”. Well, they do now! Perhaps the best comment I’ve received came from a little girl, who, sat on one of the nearby benches, starting at the assembled biodiversity; said “It smells of nature around here now”.
It didn’t take long for them to come: both the local primary schoolchildren who explore the secret path that wends its way through the plants; and the hoped-for butterflies and bees, complemented by hoverflies galore, an invasion of dragonflies, and gangs of leaping crickets. The little oasis of green that’s become a magnet.
And what have I created? Children who now ask me to identify butterflies for them, to tell them about the migration of painted ladies, who have helped me build a bug hotel. Every day they visit the park, as do local women who sit together for a chat among friends. People shout out across the street, telling me how amazing it looks. Best of all, there are plenty of local residents who rightly refer to the park as theirs, who promise to keep an eye on it, to protect and maintain it.
It’s such a privilege to have been able to work alongside such a great community, to create something really special that is already changing lives. I’ve always been a firm believer that everyone has a right to experience biodiversity. People living in crowded, inner-city areas have just as much right as people fortunate enough to live in suburbia and in the wider countryside. And, boy, do they appreciate it when it’s brought to them.