Kerry Oliver tells the story behind Elmhurst Garden’s dragon – and other creatures – carved from a fallen oak tree. Additional reporting by Olivia McCarron, Hannah Adams and Kathie Teahan. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson
When most of us look back on the early period of lockdown, one thing we will remember is the glorious spring weather, and nature in general, keeping up our spirits. We did, however, have a short spell of windy weather at the end of April and that, in combination with fungus-related root damage, brought a large red oak tree crashing down in Elmhurst Gardens one morning. People entering the park, as well as residents whose gardens back onto the park, all reported the ground shaking and hearing the tree fall.
Visitors to the park watched in interest as the council cut and stripped the tree down several days later. The left-over logs quickly became a new and exciting play area for children to scramble, balance and, in the case of my own children, generally be quite daring on. What a welcome treat after a few weeks of red-taped, out-of-bounds play areas due to CoviD-19.
It was the children’s adventurous play that led to my suggestion to Elmhurst Playground Association – a charity set up in 2017 to raise money for park improvements – that we could perhaps follow in the footsteps of other parks and recreational areas and hire someone to carve the fallen tree and make it a permanent natural play feature in the park.
Elmhurst Playground Association and Vision RCL were happy to fund the initial project, and after some clearing and moving of larger logs, chainsaw artist Marshall Lambert began working on the largest part of the trunk. At the end of day one, as if by magic, a fabulous dragon’s head appeared out of the tree trunk and pictures quickly flew round on social media. It was worked on with wonderful skill and attention over the following two days to the astonishment of all passers-by, young and old.
Marshall was stopped regularly as he sculpted and found it a very positive experience. He passionately believes in the importance of bringing natural rural play into urban environments and feels that, in general, more needs to be done in urban green spaces so that families can engage in natural play.
We were overwhelmed by the positive response and the number of people who asked to donate to the project. As a result, we set up a GoFundMe page, and within 12 days, had raised another £2,000 for the project to continue.
More than ever before, we realise how important our green spaces are, and it has been so enjoyable to be involved in a project using the resources nature provided. It has brought the community together in such a positive way. We are still fundraising to create more natural and imaginative play areas using the rest of the logs.