Across the room I heard another women, Jo Macrae, say; “I like the idea of putting gardens in Skips, like they have done in the King’s Cross Skip Garden. “Well it just so happens there are a few going spare,” I piped up, and that was that. The practicalities seemed to happen at lightning speed, made all the more possible by the fact that Georgia Gould, the head of the council was attending the meeting. By the time we all headed home Georgia had given her assurance that she would cover the transportation costs and arrange for a parking bay to be given the necessary permit for five years. Unlike Hackney, in Camden this would mean having a Skip Permit. Thanks to Jo’s powers of persuasion, two of the Skip Gardens have just been installed in Leighton Rd. If you are on the 390 bus keep your eye out on the left and the right just before you reach the Brecknock Road stop.
We have loved getting to know each other in our little bit of Leighton Road, but we know that there are limits to what we can achieve alone.
Without changes in wider transport policy and traffic management, we will continue to be affected by poor air quality and the incessant noise of cars and lorries. High volumes of traffic also represent a threat to our community. There is strong evidence from around the world that traffic gets in the way of us getting to know each other. Communities are ‘severed’.
While we have done our best to overcome the barriers to getting to know more of our neighbours in the road, we know that it’s not enough. That’s why we worked with Kentish Town Community Centre to convene a bigger conversation about how we could start to reimagine our neighbourhood more broadly. On 27th November, we convened ~30 people representing local businesses, health services, schools, other community groups and Camden Council to ask “What would it mean for you if we could reclaim some of our public spaces from cars?”
We had a rich and diverse conversation. For some it was about their children feeling safer and healthier. For others, the pleasure of being able to enjoy more plants and perhaps hear more birdsong. Local businesses could also see opportunities from more local shopping.
That evening’s conversation is feeding into Camden Council’s consultation on Healthy Streets in Kentish Town, which gives us an opportunity to radically rethink the way we use the public space currently devoted to cars. We will continue to work closely with the Council as that initiative unfolds, pushing for a high ambition outcome.
Our goal is to stop cars being pushed along Torriano Avenue and then along Leighton and Brecknock Roads as they make their way to Kings Cross and the M1. We then want to reclaim that space, creating spaces to sit and talk to each other, to grow things, to park our bikes….
One of the best things about #greeningleighton has been getting to know our neighbours and developing a much stronger sense of community and place. Because we know each other better, we are starting to do things together, sharing ideas and things. We have WhatsApp and email groups, which we use to share information and thoughts about what’s happening and plan together.
Back in October, we were also able to share the fruits of one resident’s bountiful quince tree. Quince are funny fruit, knobbly, hard and bitter when raw, but when cooked have a unique subtle flavour. Clemmie and her housemates have one of the largest quince trees I have ever seen in their garden and were kind enough to share their rich harvest.
Our neighbours include a professional cook, as well as French mum steeped in Spanish cuisine, and so one slightly dreary afternoon we gathered together and, after much stirring and many cups of tea, we managed to transform 15kg of quince fruit into jelly and membrillo. They were absolutely delicious!
Together, we distributed the fruits (forgive the pun!) of our labours with our neighbours, with people receiving a jar of jelly or a little package of membrillo.
This would have been unthinkable a year ago! Today, we can enjoy each other’s company and put locally grown fruit to good use and reduce food waste…Bring on the next harvest!
At about 11.00 am on 22nd September 2019 something amazing happened on our stretch of the busy A5200 otherwise known as Leighton Road, Camden NW5. For the first time anyone can remember (and June over the road has – I recently discovered – lived here since 1974) children emerged from their houses to play on a suddenly car-free street. They were seemingly blinking and stretching like mammals at the end of a hibernation, the rain dripping from a recent shower accentuated the feeling of some kind of a ‘thaw’. The kids soon started a game of impromptu street football together. For me it further invoked the iconic images of the German and British soldiers in no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914 and not just because some of the kids were German. This time it wasn’t the guns falling silent that led to this spontaneous act of heart-warming human interaction but simply the sudden absence of any cars.
Twenty-eight local residents were involved on the day and over 200 people attended. All of them said how pleased they were to emerge from their ‘slumber’ to meet people for the first time, enjoy our space together, chat, laugh, eat, play, take part in a bake off, a pet show, drink from an apple press with locally sourced fruit. We already feel like a community.
Yet most of us hadn’t even met two months before. I knew my immediate neighbours and was on nodding terms with a few others. But all of us had some things in common: a shared frustration at watching the emerging climate emergency; the latent sadness that we didn’t know each other and didn’t really feel a sense of community and our determination to do something about it – to affect our own world.
Car free day was the chance for us to begin to solve these problems but it’s only a start. There are bigger ambitions to bring the community together to help us look after our environment. We call the project #greeningleightonroad.
The hardest thing is to stop feeling you can’t do anything and to kick it off so this is intended as a ‘Tool Kit’ to help you start your own local initiative through car free day.
Engage with your local community and create a campaign
It all started for me when I received a note through my door from a fellow resident I didn’t know, Joanna Macrae, asking if anyone would like to get involved as a community and providing her e-mail address asking for any support. I responded along with a few others.
We agreed we wanted to do something about our lack of community and poor environment. We believed a campaign for #greeningleightonroad was a good start and created a petition asking for parking spaces to be given over to plantbeds and cycle hangers. We were able to garner 37 signatures and sent them to the leader of Camden Council cc’ing the relevant councillors and cabinet members. Furthermore, we applied for a Car Free Day and mentioned this as a good way to kick off the campaign in our proposal.