November 2020

Features

Amazing grazing

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John Philips, Grazing and Landscape Projects Officer at Epping Forest, reports on the City of London Corporation’s successful cattle-grazing trial in Wanstead Park. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson   

In our modern world, there is a huge disconnect between the natural world, farming activities and the end-users who benefit from them. A generation or two ago, the memories will be stored of working the land, if only in the summer holidays as a reprieve from city life. This transmission of custodianship and behaviours around these land-based activities have sadly become a distant memory.

The social impact of the cows’ presence in Wanstead Park surpassed our expectations.  We had a huge response from local people wanting to get involved with the cows and have been continually taken back by the positive response from regular park users and visitors alike.

The park is not only a refuge for wildlife in an urban area but also for its local people. Getting to work with these large animals daily, it is not lost on me, the calming effect of seeing them in a natural environment, existing, free from the trappings of the human’s higher sense of self and expectation.   

The cows’ main job while in the park was to remove vegetation created from the carbon cycle and return it as plant and insect food. This removal around the anthills is especially important to allow solar energy to penetrate the earth to warm up the hills.

Acid grasslands are at risk and diminishing due to nitrification through air pollution and dog faeces, which allows more aggressive, faster-growing plant species to proliferate. The cows help reduce the vegetational mass in a patchwork, reducing competition for sunlight, which allows for slower-growing plants and grasses to survive. This patchwork of varying heights also creates habitat for insects to breed, hunt and perch.

The cows – Quinine, Nina and Nuru – have moved on now, having completed their work. Quinine – who is pregnant – will head back to our farm in Theydon Bois and will graze in adjacent fields to the buildings until she calves. Nuru and Nina are not pregnant, so will travel to Chingford Plain to graze until ground conditions start to deteriorate.

The trial has been a huge success and has secured grazing becoming an annual fixture at Wanstead Park, managed by the City of London Corporation. We would like to thank everyone involved, especially volunteers and local park users, including dog walkers who have had to modify their use of the park to help make this a success.

For more information on cattle-grazing in Wanstead Park, visit wnstd.com/cows
Features

Deep roots

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Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf has published her first poetry book at the age of 89. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the first of a series of articles, Jean introduces Heartwood, a poem inspired by a special Wanstead tree

I have lived in Wanstead for 60 happy years. I first came to Wanstead as a newly-wed, having been married at St Mary’s Church. My husband’s uncle, Jack Medcalf, was then the parish priest.

When we first came to live in Wanstead, I discovered what a friendly place it was; like a village where everyone knows everyone. I never gossiped about anybody, as I was probably speaking to their relative or friend! It is the kind of place where people know the names of each other’s dogs.

When I first went shopping, the lady in the hardware shop asked how I was settling in. I wondered how she knew I’d just moved in – she turned out to be a neighbour. When I was expecting my first baby and went shopping in  Webster’s, the butcher whispered to me: “Just come to the front of the queue, and I’ll serve you first.”

One of the things I love about Wanstead is its beautiful trees. The avenues of trees, once part of the grounds of Wanstead House, the plane trees along the High Street that provide welcome shade as people stop to chat, the horse chestnut trees on the green that provide little boys with conkers every year.

And in particular, the 300-year-old sweet chestnut trees on George Green, some of which were sadly destroyed to build the M11 link road. I remember the people of Wanstead linking arms around the tree, defying the bulldozers and chainsaws. When it was felled, a great cry of grief went up from the watching crowd. I took a tiny piece of wood from its fallen trunk and kept it as a sacred relic.

I have loved poetry since childhood and have been writing poetry since the age of 14. I found it allowed me to express my deepest emotions, whether of joy or of sorrow.

When I was about 40, I discovered I had the gift of hearing trees speaking to me. This has happened to me several times and always with oak trees.

One very special tree stands out. Many years ago, I used to cycle to work through Wanstead Park each day, always passing a magnificent old oak tree. It was the ancient Repton Oak, which is 200 years old and dates back to the time when Wanstead House was a grand mansion surrounded by landscaped gardens. One day, I stopped to rest beneath it, sheltered beneath its spreading branches, quietly listening. I heard this poem in my mind – it was as if the tree was recounting its life story.

This is the story it told me…

Heartwood
by Jean Medcalf

Upwards soars my head to Heaven,
Deep my roots dug firm in clay;
Squirrels eat my acorns dropping,
In my branches build their dreys.
Lovers carve true-love upon me –
Hearts and tokens in my bark.
Sun and Moon pour brightness on me;
I am the same by day or dark.

I saw crowned Queen Boadicea
Saw the Romans come and go;
Humans change, but I am constant;
Tree above, and they below.
Springtime sees my youth upon me,
Dropping autumn leaves me bare.
Winter lends me hoary fingers –
I change only with the year.

Humans: know my powers to comfort;
Know that I can bring you peace.
Tranquil rest your soul within me;
From all cares I give release.

If you put your arms around me,
Hug me round my crusty bark,
Troubled head to dusty roughness,
Touchwood close to unquiet heart –
Then my Heart-Wood self will bless you,
From your heavy fears absolve,
Draw them deep into my own roots,
Strengthen you with oak resolve.

Know then: we are one forever.
You shall be ours when you are clay.
Abiding, loving, green in spirit,
Remaining Dryads all our days.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£4.75). Visit wnstd.com/jean
Features

Good neighbours

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In the first of two articles, Sadayeen Khan, secretary of Redbridge Neighbourhood Watch (NHW), explains the group’s purpose and why their objectives are more than just tackling crime

Redbridge NHW is a registered charity run by volunteers from within the community. Anyone living, working or studying in Redbridge is welcome to become a member (free). We use Online Watch Link (OWL), a secure email system, to send out security, crime prevention and other advisory emails to our members.

Our volunteers care for our communities and environment. Prevention is better than cure; therefore, we encourage early action to avoid being a victim of crime and suffering the associated financial and emotional costs, and saving the time and stress to put things right again.

We are not the police, nor are we a reporting arm of the police. Therefore, we remind and encourage the public to call 999, 101 or report crimes on the police.uk or crimestoppers.co.uk websites, or through the ‘Report It’ section of the Redbridge Council website.

Redbridge NHW asks members and their neighbours to keep an eye out for each other and report suspicious behaviour, characters and wrongdoing, by calling the police or informing the council. We encourage members and our communities to look out and watch out for our neighbours, especially the elderly and vulnerable; to support each other and keep their environment clean and tidy. It makes the areas more pleasant to live in and discourages criminality.

We encourage the use of anti-thief and security devices for the home and vehicles, including dash cams, CCTV and doorbell cameras as a means of monitoring and as a deterrent rather than being curtain twitchers. This technology allows people to call the police immediately if they witness an event, or later when the criminals have long gone but have been captured committing crimes.

The electoral boundaries in Redbridge changed in 2018, creating Churchfields, South Woodford, Wanstead Village and Wanstead Park wards. Once the information relating to these changes was available to us, we adapted quickly and have most definitely moved on with interaction with new councillors and redrawn police teams, new IT and automation, whilst still maintaining a human touch through good-old means of communications.

Whilst we are not the police, we do actively communicate with them to inform members of what kind of crimes or criminals are active in their areas. We are also in touch with other charities and can liaise with them if and when needed.

The Redbridge NHW website includes crime prevention advice, discount codes on crime prevention products and useful links to partner organisations. For more information, and to join (free), visit redbridgenhw.info
Features

Cornerstone of humanity

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Long before local charities got fashionable during lockdown, Wanstead has always been a thriving hub of goodwill; and The Corner House Project is perhaps the jewel in its crown. Jackie Clune reports

Residents will know the Corner House itself, with its lovely volunteer-planted front garden and welcoming signs, situated opposite the park and alongside Co-op. The house has become the central node in a network of extraordinary local people who have come together with one simple aim – to do good in the local community.

Last year, Forest Churches Emergency Night Shelter came to Wanstead, and from November to March, together with the Waltham Forest Churches, helped to give shelter to around 150 homeless guests over the winter. The outreach touched local businessman John Wagstaff, who set about collecting trainers for the homeless. Overwhelmed by the kindness in the area, he then got involved with another local legend, Frank Charles, whose Feed the Streetz initiative in Stratford was thriving. Suzi Harnett and Lizi from The Cuckfield pub joined forces to provide hubs for collection of donations.

As well as homelessness outreach, the Corner House Project supports other wonderful charities such as The Magpie Project, providing essentials for women and small children in temporary accommodation. We also work closely with the Tin in a Bin network, supporting the Wobble Rooms for NHS staff, providing fruit supplies to vulnerable people and visits to those living in hotels from Lola’s Homeless during lockdown. Other lines of support are in the offing.

The Corner House Project is a loose collective of local people who want to cut through bureaucracy and deliver what is needed to those who need it most. As well as providing material things, we want to offer outreach to the vulnerable; advice, support, a friendly face.

With that in mind, every Tuesday in a car park tucked behind a high street in E17, a group of homeless men start to congregate from around 6.30pm. At 7.30pm, a big catering van called The Christian Kitchen will roll in to serve a three-course meal to everyone there. Tonight, the Corner House Project is back after a lockdown break. We set up two trestle tables and load them with donated coats, trainers, bagged-up emergency toiletry supplies and pumps of hand sanitiser. The men are wary at first – who are these people and what do they want? But as soon as one comes to browse, they all trickle over, and soon there are clothes and pants flying in all directions.

“Thank you, Miss, thank you!”

“Bless you, thank you so much!”

“Have you got any socks, please? Thank you, thank you!”

The humility of these people is heartbreaking – how can we be living in such a divided world where Dickensian gratitude is still the norm? Shouldn’t we be relying on our governments to look after their most fragile citizens? How can this be the responsibility of a handful of do-gooders who care enough to give up their own time?

It would be easy to fall into this kind of despair but none of the team shows any sign of such compassion fatigue. Why do we do it? I ask Charlotte, founding member of Feet on the Street. What draws her here every Tuesday when she now lives miles away?

“I don’t know,” she smiles shyly, “I think I’ve got an excess of empathy. Doing this doesn’t necessarily make me feel better but I have to do it. I wake up at three in the morning sometimes worrying about them. I’ve got to know so many of them, I care about them. Sometimes, I’ll call them in the middle of the night to check in, and they say: ‘Haven’t you got work in the morning?!’”

John Wagstaff is equally committed. “From the first moment I spoke to one of the homeless guys and saw the difference I could make just by acknowledging they exist, I wanted to do more and more. To help as many people as I can. The first time I put something in someone’s hands – that direct transaction – the feeling you are really helping someone. I just felt like I belonged, and having suffered from mental illness from a young age, my empathy comes from the thought that it could easily have been me living on the street instead of them. There but for the grace of God…”

Other members of the team – Christelle, Michelle and Julie – are busy handing out jeans and home-made cookies. They are enjoying seeing the clothing collections they have been pouring hours and hours into during lockdown finally reaching their intended recipients. Michelle tries to source a bag for a man who is being taught to read by a fellow homeless person and wants to say thanks to his teacher by getting him something. One small man around my age is hovering near the jeans. They are all too big for him. Suddenly, I remember seeing a pair of size 32 Levis in a pile. I fish them out and hand them to him. He is utterly delighted. We swap names, and Jason tells me he suffers from terrible anxiety but that the jeans have made him feel good.

“I feel like it’s Christmas. Please know that I will be thinking of you all tonight.” As he walks off with a few jumpers to go with the jeans, I spot a brand new pair of fluffy Christmas socks and give them to him. He smiles. I tell him to put them on and remember us when he does, that we will be thinking of him too. And I know we all will be until we see him again next week. The Corner House Project – it has that kind of effect on you.

To donate money to The Corner House Project visit wnstd.com/wansteadcares
A drive-through collection of clothing and toiletries will take place at Wanstead Cricket Club car park on 5 and 6 December.
For more information, visit wnstd.com/cornerhouseproject

Features

Scrutiny

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Councillors Jo Blackman, Paul Donovan and Daniel Morgan-Thomas (Labour, Wanstead Village) explain the work they do in scrutinising Redbridge Council, and invite you to participate

When writing one of our monthly newsletters recently, it struck us that we spend a lot of time communicating with residents about what we’re doing locally to improve our area, but rarely cover our role in scrutinising the council through the committees we sit on. This might sound like a rather dry subject, but these committees play a crucial role in scrutinising the work of the council, which directly impacts residents’ lives.

Between the three of us, we sit on committees covering the full range of council services – health, education, place (covering environment and highways) and people (education, social care, youth and children’s services). There are also occasional groups set up to delve deeper into specific topics and come up with recommendations to inform council policy. These are called task and finish groups, or corporate panels. Most recently, we’ve been active in groups looking at climate change, biodiversity, transport and the social inclusion of older people.

The committees receive reports from senior council officers and Cabinet members on specific subjects, as well as regular updates on some standing agenda items. This gives us the chance to probe the strategic direction being taken by the council, as well as examining in more detail what that means for residents. Most weeks will see one or more of these committees meeting – now virtually – during the evening, enabling councillors to fit it around their day jobs.

Public engagement is also a vital part of these committee meetings. Residents can request in advance to join committee meetings to raise issues of concern. These are always heard at the start of the meeting and often provoke a lively debate. These interventions are particularly effective when they include personal testimonies about the impact of council policy on people’s lives. They can also directly influence and inform council policy, for example, following representations about proposed cuts to children’s centres.

Pre-lockdown, these committees also undertook visits to see how things are working on the ground. This has included visits by the people scrutiny committee to Wanstead Village to see the great work underway at the Woodbine centre, as well as by the health scrutiny committee to discuss the blood testing service.

Committee meetings are now broadcast online with all documentation available to the public. The council is also planning to undertake more outreach to encourage participation from a wider range of residents in council meetings. We’re always happy to help residents navigate the council’s committees, so do get in touch if you’d like to get involved or find out more about our work scrutinising the council.

For more information, email jo.blackman@redbridge.gov.uk
Features

All heroes

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With the cancellation of Wanstead’s Remembrance commemorations this year, Colin Cronin is encouraging local children to create Wanstead’s first Poppy Trail and for us all to remember our fallen heroes

As Remembranctide approaches, our community’s thoughts turn again to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their names are forever etched in stone on Memorial Green and their memories held in the hearts of so many family members and friends who still live in Wanstead today. They are true heroes who, for our tomorrow, gave their today and remain worthy of the respect and honour we pay to them each year with the familiar words “at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”.

Heroism very much envelopes us in the same abundance today as it did during those past conflicts. Our NHS and frontline workers fight against a foe that is equally deadly, stealthier and perhaps far more lethal. Like the fallen on our war memorial, many of them have given their lives during this battle to protect us and should be considered in the same heroic light as those who have gone before them.

We as a community must do our bit too, through social distancing, wearing face masks and to curbs that can sometimes seem cruel, unnecessary or frustrating to our normal ways of living. However, it is these curbs that will help us stem the tide, prevent spreading the virus and allow us to support our NHS workers in ultimately defeating this foe.

With that in mind, it is my profound regret that there will be no official Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day commemorations in Wanstead this year. There is no way to adequately maintain social distancing, prevent overcrowding or create a safe environment where this virus cannot spread amongst us.

We should still remember our heroes, however, so I am asking the children of Wanstead to please paint, draw or colour in poppies and place them in your front windows, next to your NHS rainbows, to create Wanstead’s very first Poppy Trail. The Memorial Green will also remain open for people to pay their respects and lay their poppies throughout Remembrance Sunday. However, we will operate a socially distanced queuing system this year with the entrance at the front of the memorial and the exit behind it.

I remain confident that Wanstead will come through this virus safer and stronger as a community from having worked together to defeat it. Until that bright dawn, for this year, let us remember in our own way all heroes who have given their lives for us and offer the prayer that we will all be able to come together again soon to commemorate them.

“As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust; Moving upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.”

The Wanstead War Memorial is located on Memorial Green – also known as Tarzy Wood – opposite Provender Brasserie, 17 High Street, Wanstead, E11 2AA.
News

‘This is going to be so lovely’: community gardeners strike again

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The Wanstead Community Gardeners have revitalised another neglected patch in the local area.

“As if the new perennial border along the footpath connecting Cambridge Park with Draycot Road wasn’t enough, our chief digger, Peta Jarmey, continued round the corner on a desolate plot. She reckoned it would be a brilliant place to have a dry bed, taking into account climate change and the fact we can now expect weeks of no rain in the summer. This is going to be so lovely next year,” said Marian Temple.

News

Three significant updates for users of Wanstead Park

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The Epping Forest Consultative Committee addressed three issues for Wanstead Park last month.

“Firstly, the major work on the park’s lakes planned for 2024 has been reduced in scale following a recent flood risk assessment. Instead, a study into the relationship between the Ornamental Water and the River Roding was announced. Secondly, a new and expanded cycling policy will be introduced. Finally, the meeting proposed the adoption of a Conservation Management Plan for the historic Grotto,” said a spokesperson.

News

Swan watchers needed to help protect flock on Wanstead Flats

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A network of volunteers who help protect the local swan population are seeking more ‘swan watchers’ to cover Alexander Lake and Jubilee Pond on Wanstead Flats.

“We were alerted indirectly to an injured cygnet on Alexander Lake (now in a sanctuary) and have agreed we need to increase our numbers (training provided). Our swans are important, and as we hear more about animals being abused in the area we need to up our game… If you have any concerns about swans, please call,” said Tracey Adebowale-Jones.

Call 07970 404 866

News

Virtual Christmas market: local creatives set up shop on Facebook

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Artists and makers from Wanstead, South Woodford and surrounding areas have set up a virtual Christmas market on Facebook.

“Being a small business owner, around this time of the year I would normally be selling at markets and craft fairs, but due to the ongoing situation, I have not been able to do so. My family and I had the idea for a Facebook group, and we have been overwhelmed with the support shown,” said Hayley Bull, founder of Deck the Halls Virtual Christmas Market.

Visit wnstd.com/deckthehalls