The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (FoTHCP) was formed in 1990 and promotes the preservation, care and improvement of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as a place of historic, ecological, educational and recreational interest. Local residents and the wider community enjoy leisure time, socialising and exercising in this unique woodland cemetery and nature reserve, within the heart of London's East End.
Since June 2018, FoTHCP has delivered Nature & Us, a community project aimed at bringing residents together through nature across different green spaces in Tower Hamlets. The project builds partnerships in the borough, enhances local green space, and delivers free activities and training opportunities across diverse communities.
Through Nature & Us, FoTHCP works in Swedenborg Gardens, an underrated yet vital and rare green space in a very built-up and deprived area of Tower Hamlets. The park has unique heritage, such as its association with Emanuel Swedenborg (Swedish theologist, philosopher, scientist and author) and Daniel Solander (Swedish botanist).
Despite the park’s importance, FoTHCP was not prepared for how difficult engagement with the surrounding community would be, often finding that nobody came to events initially. After a long time collecting feedback from the community, FoTHCP learned people felt unsafe using the gardens due to anti-social behaviour (e.g. drug dealing, drug/alcohol use and rough sleeping) and because the park was not attractive.
FoTHCP is one of the founding members of a group of stakeholders called the Swedenborg Partnership, who meet to discuss issues in the park and make plans to help mitigate them. The Partnership includes a homeless charity, housing providers, Metropolitan Police, a female and youth focussed charity, local residents and various departments in Tower Hamlets Council. The Swedenborg Partnership has been hugely successful and, since its formation, has resulted in the development of an impressive wild flower mound in the park, increased police patrols, grant application collaborations across partners, and the delivery of a community fun day in the park.
Due to Nature & Us and FoTHCP’s prolonged presence in the park, as well as the work of the Swedenborg Partnership, participation at events greatly improved, anti-social behaviour reduced, and the park became more attractive and beneficial for biodiversity. However, the situation is not fully recovered, and the Swedenborg Partnership needs to ensure that community engagement is sustainable in the park.
The COVID-19 outbreak really challenged this as, for a long time, much less community engagement could take place in the park. Fortunately, anti-social behaviour did not escalate to the levels it was once at a couple of years ago, and Swedenborg Gardens proved to be a lifeline for many local residents during lockdown, especially the incredible wildflower mound!
FoTHCP are facing a huge challenge created by the COVID-19 outbreak and to date have lost around £60,000 of income. You can help to support their important work by donating to their emergency fundraiser and booking onto their online talks.
Nature & Us is led by FoTHCP’s Community Outreach Coordinator. If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering or partnering with the Nature & Us project, please email me: [email protected].