This text was written by Carol Kenna, multi-disciplinary artist, founder of Greenwich Mural Workshop and the Charlton Park Reminiscence Project, and coordinator of Twinkle Park Trust. Her article describes what it means to work with local communities to respond to the regeneration of their neighbourhood and to ensure that regeneration proposals work towards more sustainable and inclusive redevelopment. Working primarily with Arts and Environmental improvement funds, central Government Single Regeneration Budget, local government regeneration programmes that invested in neighbourhoods to create a better quality of life for existing local communities through job creation, skills development, health and education facilities, transport, housing and green spaces and arts events, Carol says that what is happening today is not a regeneration programme, “it’s simply developers clicking their fingers to make more profit”. Although working with local authorities was not easy in the past either, Carol’s work demonstrates what local communities can achieve when given the necessary resources. All Photographs by Carol Kenna.
Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens
Stephen Lobb and I set up Greenwich Mural Workshop (GMW) in 1975 with the intention of using mural painting as a way of working with local communities to express their hopes and fears, brighten their neighbourhoods, help communities work together and make an impact on the city. The murals were intended to have a short life – just 5 years, as we began by using indoor emulsion paints. Contrary to expectation the murals lasted much longer and when they did show signs of wear and tear we found the host community wanted it restored or repainted or created in mosaic to ensure a long life. We also found that the initial mural often led to building an adjacent pocket park or campaigning for environmental improvements to the neighbourhood.
We collaborated with architects, landscape architects, neighbourhood resource centres, other arts organisations and eventually became part of a community forum monitoring development proposals and how they met the needs of the community that would be affected. Although both of us were trained as fine artists, Stephen taught in an architecture college and I had undertaken a postgraduate course in social and economic planning, we were both naturally interested in the design and layout of the city and how it supported or ignored the indigenous communities, and we were both interested in using our artistic skills in this setting finding the fine art scene stultifying. Working with tenants associations primarily we worked to produce murals, set up a silkscreen print workshop to produce agitprop posters and banners for community organisations and trade unions and began working with schools to help them refurbish their playgrounds to make them more interesting and responsive to the children’s needs and wishes. All our work centred on working co-operatively with other groups and in a setting where residents, professionals including us artists brought their relative skills to the table to find a solution to any problems as they presented themselves to us.
I became chair of the Greenwich Community Forum and then joint chair of the Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership (established 1991), a tripartite organisation that sought central Government Single Regeneration Budget funds to support projects along the length of the Greenwich Waterfront. The three partners were local authority, business and community, all working well collaboratively.
Deptford fell under the auspices of the Creekside SRB partnership and their “Building Bridges’ Programme.
In October 1992 I was asked by a resident of Rowley House Watergate Street to help redevelop the adjacent and derelict local authority playground – once known as Hughes Fields Recreation Playground – as a play space for local children.
Twinkle Park in 1994
The play area was less than enticing as it housed shoulder high weeds, rusted play equipment, Victorian railings and an abandoned metal container.
So began a life long relationship with the residents of Hughes Fields in Deptford.
By February 1993 we had set up the Twinkle Park Steering Group involving Hughes Fields primary school, the school’s After Care Club, Hughes Fields Tenants Association, various officers from Greenwich Council departments – Leisure Services, Strategic Planning – architects and landscape architects, GMW and EEA. An eclectic mix, but enabling potential conflicts between activists and the establishment to be worked out through amiable conflict and solutions found – a methodology we use to this day.
GMW ran workshops in the primary school, collected ideas of how a park could work to support both the needs of the locality and the school and raise the necessary funds to implement the proposals. Taking on this role we attended many tenants association meetings and gradually overcame their natural suspicion of the interloper.
The proposals to re-establish Hughes Fields Recreation Area as Twinkle Park and refurbish Charlotte Turner Gardens, establishing a pedestrian friendly route between Deptford High Street and the River, were neighbourhood changing and therefore potentially financially prohibitive. Our attitude was that if Deptford was becoming gentrified then the resident community required an equally adventurous, well-designed, top quality materials playground. Deptford City Challenge arrived about that time but concentrated on Deptford High Street. Deptford Power station was demolished in 1992 for a riverside complex with the social housing element at the rear of the development away from sought after riverside apartments. For about 3 years the loss of the power station opened up views to the River for the council tenants. Unsurprisingly the new development – Millenium Quays – re-obscured these views but through community pressure the original single wall of flats was divided into two or three blocks, but still the social housing was at the back of the development. Gentrification was coming to Deptford threatening a strong cross borough community who identified strongly as Deptford people not Greenwich or Lewisham.
Between 1994 and 1996 the Steering Group looked at various ways of implementing the refurbishment of ‘Twinkle Park’ – the name taken either from the amount of broken glass on the ground that ‘twinkled’ in the evening lamplight or the name of the original playground supervisor – Mrs. Twinkle.
We were determined that the project was developed by local people not some outside developer so we considered a volunteer workforce, fruitless offers for help by TV personalities such as Anneka Rice and finally agreed that the Trust would raise the money, develop the master-plan and employ professional contractors to undertake the work.
Chinese New Year celebration with Hughes Fields primary school and Emergency Exit Arts
By 1996, despite a slight hiccup whereby the primary school and local council had tarmacked the play area as playground space, we persuaded Greenwich Leisure Services to provide a grant to develop a public park that could operate both for the general public and the school was an innovative and vibrant idea. A requirement of the grant was to include Charlotte Turner Gardens in the plans in order to encourage greater use of this public space, empty even during a scorching summer.
Working from ideas that had arisen during workshops with the school we prepared questionnaires delivered throughout Hughes Fields neighbourhood and undertook a ‘Planning for Real’ workshop in Armada Community Hall. The Armada Hall workshops included the Steering Group, local authority architects who were coincidentally working on plans to expand the primary school, other local architects, landscape architects, officers from the local authority and the Creekside SRB Agency, local residents and children.
A master-plan was developed from these discussions, presented back to local people for their agreement and amendment and eventually in late 1996 a landscape architect was appointed to ‘detail’ the master-plan.
Theft of dog grills for ‘scrap’ metal
It was agreed that the Steering Group should be set up first as a business and later a charity and that GMW could either become ‘employed’ by the Trust to continue to raise funds and oversee the project or be a Trust member but not both. It was agreed that GMW would become the Trust’s coordinator thereby establishing the Trust from local representatives and implementer of the project.
Greenwich Council eventually agreed this format, but would elect a local councilor as a member of the board and a lease was negotiated between Greenwich borough and the Trust, leasing both Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens to the Trust for a period of thirty years with the option of renewal in 2028.
It took 3 years to conclude this lease. At the same time an agreement was set up between the council, the school and the Trust for use of the park for play facilities during the daytime in return for subsidised community use of school facilities that had been designed into the school when the school buildings were expanded, achieved by GMW and the council architects working together to produce a design for the park to support this. Sadly more adventurous ideas such as the tree walk linking the second floor of the additional classrooms through the park trees fell by the wayside. Again this was due to finding creative borough officers willing to work outside-the-box and a joint belief that blue-sky thinking is essential for the resulting compromise to be adventurous.
Opening celebration to launch paper boats on the pond led by Nick Raynsford MP
The master plan was enacted step by step. Twinkle Park was installed in two sections. The pond area first, followed by the games area, necessary as work on the school development was delayed. The gazebo design and working floor compass was the result of a public competition, open to children, residents, and professionals resulting in eleven designs displayed in Armada Hall and voted on by the public. Architect Piers Gough chaired the competition group and although his choice was not the choice of the public, expertly chaired the group through the necessary scrutiny of the designs before they were passed to an engineering firm to ensure it would stand up properly. In all three designs were chosen, one for the structure of the gazebo, a second for the bench gates that could be wheeled open or shut to isolate the games area from the rest of the park for school use and the third for the floor design.
Over the past twenty years the master plan has been enacted in stages relying on GMW and the Trust raising the funds. At each stage the original master-plan proposals were subjected to renewed consultation by the local community to ensure that the original proposals were fit for purpose. Some changes were made but the essence of the masterplan was maintained and some interesting elements added – an apple orchard, naturalised cherry trees whose fruit could be safely eaten –influenced by knowing a local resident annually harvested the cherries from the street trees, fitness equipment and then a toddlers play area. The overall design referenced the nearby River Thames, something than many residents were unaware of. Each stage contained an ’art work’ – so Twinkle Park included both the gazebo and a purpose-built tug dingy as a seat. Benbow Street included school railings with a wave motive and the corner projected as the bow of a ship, also a circular stone roundel that one day might be replaced with a fountain that reflects the state of the tides; the Gardens have a functional analematic sundial and the toddler play area sports a Viking ship and sculptured stepping stones that reflect drawings developed with Rose Bruford nursery school children and members of the Spice playscheme and produced by local sculptor Richard Lawrence.
Throughout resident’s ideas have been incorporated – retaining the cobbles in Benbow Street, gleaned from their use as ballast in the cargo ships leaving Deptford Dockyard; keeping the Victorian railings around Twinkle Park, protecting the ancient Plane Trees with TPOs.
The completion of each stage is celebrated with a public festival event, which over the years has developed into an annual festival. In between the Trust and GMW fund raise to support events such as Chinese New Year, environmental and wild-life courses, a secret mosaic pathway in Twinkle Park and the I-spy poster to raise people’s awareness of the local history of the area.
May Day Celebrations
Over the years the Trust has received a variety of accolades, from BURA (British Urban Regeneration Agency) for developing a model of local implementation that could act as a template for other communities; from the Civic Trust for quality of design, from Keep Britain Tidy for quality for the two parks. We have raised near £2million pounds to implement the improvements and various allied projects and we constantly look for ways that the Trust can continue as an active element in the local community.
Pond Weed Clearance
Borthwick Street demolished but not yet risen
Will we ever finish, this year we restored the pond to the Park, having mysteriously disappeared overnight in 2013. We work to stay involved with local developments, Convoys, redevelopment of the school yet again and the Sayes Court project.
Carol Kenna, December 2018