Elmhurst for Everyone

DSCF3726©Geoff Wilkinson

Kathie Teahan is one of many residents who would like to see the empty bowls club behind the hedges in the centre of Elmhurst Gardens become a resource that is open to everyone in the community. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

The Elmhurst Gardens bowls club closed at the end of 2020, a victim of dwindling membership and COVID-19 restrictions. The site, known as South Woodford Bowls Club, currently lies empty and unused.

Having not been accessible to the general public for many years, the re-purposing of the site presents a wonderful opportunity for something positive to materialise in our community, and in recent surveys, many residents said they would welcome a cafe and community space.

This space has the potential to be a multi-use venue with rooms that could be hired for commercial and private use as well as an area to serve refreshment and host events for the community. It will greatly enhance one of our most popular small green spaces, providing additional ways for all age groups to socialise and enjoy leisure activities, adding to an already close-knit community feel. Over the last year, many of us have come to appreciate our local parks more than ever, and with cuts to public funding, a business like this will go a long way in increasing what Elmhurst Gardens has already provided – a safe place to see friendly faces of all ages and feel less isolated.

The Maybank Community Association, the Friends of Elmhurst Gardens and the Elmhurst Playground Group are some of the most vocal bodies in relaying what residents want to see happen in their local park. The desire is to provide activities for all age groups. Established activity groups already operating in the area have found it hard to find premises to accommodate them during school hours, something which could be catered for in a community hub.

For the elderly, a cafe would be a place where they can meet with friends or form new friendships, having spent so much time in isolation due to COVID-19. A range of classes and activities could be arranged for them. Well-being activities and social events for the elderly are highly desirable to combat isolation and loneliness.

Children under five would benefit enormously from a cafe as well – socialising with other children and partaking in different activities running throughout the week.

A community hub would also provide somewhere for school-aged children to mix with peers in a safe and secure environment, rather than them returning to an empty home or wandering the streets. This is something South Woodford really needs, and it would be great for these children to feel they can come and use the facilities. A wide range of outdoor activities could be provided, utilising the green area, such as table tennis and football. Redbridge Council is working toward the ‘child-friendly borough’ accreditation from UNICEF, and they recently consulted young people about problems in the local area. Many replied about the lack of places to go for teenagers. A community hub would help with this.

The disabled community would benefit from a safe environment for children, teenagers and adults who feel socially isolated. A cafe and community hub could provide access to specialised activities.

With the correct application, a community hub could also hold fundraising events for the park and other local causes.

A community hub and cafe would champion diversity across the board because everyone matters in the community around Elmhurst Gardens.

We are fully aware of the pressure on Vision RCL – who manage the park – and Redbridge Council to make cuts and generate income in public spaces, but I would argue that a cafe and community hub would be a financially viable suggestion for a business. Cafes are successful in other local parks in Redbridge and indeed across the country, and I feel the same could be the case in Elmhurst Gardens.

The tendering process for the site ended on 23 February – and it seems a private nursery is to be awarded the site – but a petition has been launched calling for it to become a resource that is open to everyone. The people of the Elmhurst area just want to have what many other parks have – a place to share with their community. Let’s save this site for everyone instead of letting it go to a private tenant who will lock us out again.

To view the petition, click here.