October 2021


Without a Paddle


Wanstead resident Ben Harris has completed a six-week kayaking (and unexpected hiking) expedition in Africa. Sarah Squires from Centrepoint – Ben’s chosen charity – reports on the action man’s heroic efforts

Ben Harris, a kayaker from Wanstead, found himself stranded in Tanzania after his boat was destroyed in a storm. Ben, who was raising funds for homelessness charity Centrepoint, aimed to be the first person to solo kayak the length of the world’s longest freshwater lake, Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa.

Lake Tanganyika is one of the African Great Lakes. At 673km long and over a kilometre deep, it contains nearly a fifth of the world’s available freshwater. Its banks are shared by four African nations: Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The action man travelled from Mpulungu, a small village in Zambia (the lake’s most southern point) to Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi (the lake’s most northern point).

Despite the shipwreck, the 21-year-old geography student didn’t admit defeat, and after kayaking 350km, bravely hiked 400km to the endpoint.

The shipwrecking storm was not the only challenge Ben faced: he was rescued by a fisherman after capsizing in crocodile-infested waters; a local man plugged holes in his leaking kayak with melted plastic from a bucket; he became seriously ill and hooked to a drip, and even had a close encounter with a hippo.

“It was the most challenging and exciting six weeks of my life. I’ve learnt a lot, dealt with a lot and had to put up with a lot! But when I look back at it all now, I can’t help but smile,” said Ben with mixed emotions just after he completed his challenge.

This wasn’t his first expedition. Previous challenges include a solo, unsupported cycle from London to Barcelona; canoe and hiking expeditions in Canada’s remote Yukon region with the Inuit people; mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, and five months of solo travel across South America.

His recent heroic kayaking and hiking efforts raised over £12,000 for the homeless young people Centrepoint supports. Ben’s determination to complete his challenge has been incredible to watch and we’re grateful for his support. He couldn’t be raising funds for homeless young people at a more critical time. Before the pandemic, youth homelessness was already at a crisis point. Between 2019 and 2020, around 8,500 young people were facing homelessness in London. We expect these numbers have increased due to the pandemic. This, coupled with young people seeing a 25% cut to their Universal Credit now the temporary uplift has ended, paints a worrying picture for youth homelessness going forward.

Sarah is Centrepoint’s community and events fundraising manager. For more information on Ben’s expedition and to donate, visit wnstd.com/bharris


Deep Roots

jean1Jean as a 21-year-old in 1952

Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf published her first poetry book last year. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the 12th of a series of articles, Jean – who sadly passed away last month aged 90 – recalls her journey as a poet

As this is my last article in the series, I thought I would tell you about my life as a poet. At the age of 90, I can still recall the very first time my life was touched by poetry. I was eight years old. I was at Cann Hall Primary School and the Second World War had just broken out. The poem was Silver by Walter de la Mare, which is a magical poem about the beauty of moonlight. It opened a door in my mind.

The war raged for the rest of my childhood, and during this time, poetry became a source of comfort, an escape from fear and hardship into another world of peace and beauty. Paper was rationed, but I wrote on whatever scraps I could get. A kind aunt gave me a tiny notebook, and in this, I began to keep a diary where I could confide my feelings. At the age of 14, I wrote wistfully: “I wonder what it feels like to be a poet? I don’t suppose I shall ever know.”

During the years of marriage and motherhood, I had little time for writing, but in later life, I was able to take creative writing classes and this became a fertile time. I was amazed to win a poetry prize at the age of 72, and this year I was delighted to receive a letter from Prince William thanking me for sending him a poem I wrote about the death of Princess Diana.

I have written poems throughout my life, and often they are cathartic, a means of releasing the emotions that come at important times: of birth and death, marriage, motherhood, widowhood and growing old.

Recently, recalling that day I learnt to love poetry, I donated money to my old primary school to buy poetry books for the children, as a token of my gratitude and in the hope they will love poetry as I did. I also sent them my class photograph, and was touched to hear that they have framed it and put it on their wall.

As I mentioned in my first article, many of my poems come from trees. I draw strength from trees and they speak to me, and this always happens with venerable oak trees, like the Repton Oak in Wanstead Park and my friendly oak with the seat around it on Christchurch Green. Their messages are wise and loving, but of all of them, this one was the most profound.

I had gone on a journey back to my Huguenot roots in France, to visit the place where my ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. There, while sitting under a tree, I heard in my mind words spoken in French – the tree was speaking to me in its own language. On my return home, I translated its words, which held a profound message for me. Just weeks after my idyllic holiday, my world was shattered. My husband lay in a coma after suffering a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. I then understood why the tree had given me its wise counsel. It wanted to tell me that even at the darkest times when I felt I was lost, God would always be looking after me.

Sain et Sauf
by Jean Medcalf, Normandy Summer 1993

Be still
Be at peace
The good Lord has need of you –
You with your grief and pain
And sadness.

Be at peace
You are not lost –
Even though you may feel you have strayed,
He will always find you.

Always He knows where you are.
So be it.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£5.75). Visit wnstd.com/jean


Wanstead Fringe 2021 was a massive success: time to think about 2022

IMG_4932An open-air screening of The Lorax took place at Wanstead Cricket Club as part of the Fringe

Organisers of the Wanstead Fringe are ready to start planning next year’s events.

“The Fringe was a massive success last month – there was so much pent up appetite for events that nearly everything sold out. Thank you to the venues, sponsors, volunteers and ticket-buyers – none of it could have happened without you. And now is the time to be thinking about what Wanstead Fringe 2022 might look like. If you want to get involved or plan an event, do get in touch,” said Giles Wilson.

Email info@wansteadfringe.org


Appeal to fund life-saving spinal surgery for Wanstead resident


A crowdfunding page was set up last month to support Wanstead resident Kirstin Maguire, who needs life-saving spinal surgery not available in the UK.

“For the past few years, Kirstin has been house – and increasingly – bed-bound… Her skull, neck and spine are unstable in a number of areas, and there are only three neurosurgeons in the world with the expertise to attempt the surgery she needs,” said Kirstin’s sister Clara.

Over £60,000 has been raised so far, with a target of £200,000.

Visit wnstd.com/kirstin


Wall of sound

DSCF6743©Geoff Wilkinson

Kathy Taylor explains the story behind Wanstead’s first large-scale mural, a singing nightingale on Nightingale Lane. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Back in January 2021, I was dreaming up an idea of a Festival of Nightingales for September on Nightingale Lane, Wanstead as a celebration, a wake and a rallying cry for this wonderful bird. Sadly, due to council Covid restrictions at the time, the idea had to be severely curtailed to last month’s mini festival.

However, in response to my door-to-door leafleting, Mark Clack of Wood Street Walls got in touch to ask if there was suitable wall space for a nightingale mural in the area. A few possibilities were identified and by February we approached Syed Asad Haque of the India Garden restaurant, who was delighted by the idea of having his end wall brightened up, being a fan of the Walthamstow murals. Mark selected one of his artist contacts, Gavin McPhail, who came up with a design that was approved by locals and Syed.

Now we see how a plain wall can be enhanced with design and colour, I am sure there will be a demand to brighten up other Wanstead walls!

The image is of a nightingale, which is a small brown bird with a creamy breast and a pale ring around its eye.

This mysterious, rarely seen bird is best known for its amazing melodious song (celebrated by poets since Homer in 750 BC) rather than its plumage, so the artist has made a depiction of its song prominent in the design.

The nightingale is in steep decline in the UK (a 91% dive in numbers since 1967), probably due to climate change and scrub habitat loss (disturbance from industrial farming practices – it nests near the ground – and grazing by muntjac deer both contribute to this). At a talk given by James Heal from the local Wren Wildlife group for the mini festival, attendees were amazed to learn that a nightingale was last heard on Wanstead Flats only this spring! However, this is a rare ‘sighting’ as it would have been passing through, looking for a suitable habitat on return from its winter migration to west Africa (it is thought).

Fishers Green in the Lea Valley is probably the nearest known place that you might hear one in spring at dusk. But what is the answer to the question: “Would there ever have been nightingales nesting in Wanstead?” There is a record of someone catching 34 birds in 1858 in Leytonstone, so almost undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

Thankfully, we no longer trap nightingales, even if we could find 34 of them! They are the canaries in the coal mine, an indicator of the drastic decline in our biodiversity and many of our much-loved songbird populations, including turtle doves and, locally, skylarks.

How can you help the nightingales? Campaign for better farming practices and more rewilding projects, find out how your food is produced and influence things via your spending power.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wnstd.com/wren

For more information on Wood Street Walls, visit wnstd.com/wsw


Cows set to remain in Wanstead Park this month following wet summer

cows-1©Natalie Cleur

Two of the three longhorn cattle grazing in Wanstead Park are to remain in place until mid-October.

The extension follows a wet summer, which has resulted in more lush grass for Nina, Nutty and Goose, who have been performing their job as manual mowing machines since 10 August. Seven-year-old Nutty left the park last month as she is due to give birth in November.

“We would like to thank the volunteers and the Friends of Wanstead Parklands for their support in this project,” said a City of London spokesperson.


Adopt a tree pit on your street: applications open with free seeds


Applications are open for residents to adopt the tree pits on their streets and plant them with wild flowers.

“The Adopt a Tree Pit scheme is part of our community gardening initiative and gives residents the chance to show trees on their street some love and boost biodiversity,” said a Redbridge Council spokesperson. Last year, more than 1,300 tree pits across the borough were successfully adopted.

Applications close on 30 November, with a free packet of wild flower seeds while stocks last.

Visit wnstd.com/adoptatreepit


Ultra Low Emission Zone expands to Wanstead this month


Drivers are reminded that from 25 October, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding to cover a larger area out to the North and South Circular (the North and South Circular themselves are not in the zone).

This will incorporate western areas of Redbridge, including Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Aldersbrook and South Woodford.

The expanded ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a £12.50 daily charge for vehicles that do not meet the required emissions standards.

Visit wnstd.com/ulez


New gardening team following Mini Festival of Nightingales

IMG_7446As part of the festival, Marian Temple transported young listeners with imaginative stories of nightingales

A new voluntary gardening team will be set up to care for Nightingale Green following last month’s Mini Festival of Nightingales.

“Our birds and butterflies creative day was a huge success. Many thanks to all the volunteers and staff from Redbridge Council and Vision RCL,” said organiser Kathy Taylor, who also coordinated the new mural at India Garden on Nightingale Lane. “Vision is going to cut back some of the shrubs on the Green, but if you’d like to be part of the new gardening group, do get in touch.”

Email Nightingalegreengardeners@gmail.com


Redbridge Brass Band to mark a return to live music in Aldersbrook


This month, Redbridge Brass Band will be celebrating a return to live music with a performance at St Gabriel’s Church in Aldersbrook.

“We are hugely excited to be playing to a live audience once again with this concert on 9 October. We will give a varied programme, featuring a wide range of music that we love to play, from the classical side to jazz-inspired instrumental solos and TV and film music, suitable for all ages,” said Dave Wallace. The concert begins at 7.30pm (tickets: £12; under-12s: free).

Visit wnstd.com/brass


Crowdfunding campaign launched to create natural play area in Wanstead Park

IMG_7417Some large logs have been placed on the site behind the Temple in readiness for the project

A campaign has been launched to raise £20,000 to create a natural play area in Wanstead Park.

“Residents have been campaigning for play facilities in or close to Wanstead Park for three decades. If this campaign demonstrates strong support, we may also be eligible for matched funding of up to 50% of the total from Redbridge Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy scheme,” said Caroline Clancy.

The play area – to be located on former scrubland behind the Temple – has been planned in consultation with local groups and will be constructed from natural materials found in Epping Forest. Volunteers and arborists from the City of London will be building most of the play structures, but funds are needed to purchase some specialist equipment

“If we don’t raise the full £20,000, then unfortunately, we receive nothing!”

Donations can be made until 6 December.

Visit wnstd.com/parkplay