May 2024


Unbroken spirit


When Wanstead resident Paul Canal found himself as runner-up in a street fight with a Range Rover, his spirits – unlike his leg – were not broken, thanks to the kindness of locals

Imagine this: no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, right? But even less expected is being rugby-tackled by a Range Rover right outside the Wanstead Co-op on a dreary December night. That was my unexpected twist on 8 December. The shock soon gave way to a world of pain as I found myself doing an impromptu somersault down Grove Park, my attempts at creative swearing hardly doing justice to the situation. Picture an 18-stone human pinball versus a 2.5-tonne metal giant from Solihull.

As I hit the deck, my brain went into overdrive, juggling tasks like a circus act – trying to break my fall, checking for any spinal injury issues, and somehow keeping a death grip on my groceries. As I skidded to a stop, dreams of playing for the Eton Manor 1st XV were put on hold and I realised I was in a bit of a pickle, stranded like a beached whale in the middle of the road.

But then, my personal cavalry arrived in the form of local heroes Carrie Hards and Christine Twomey, along with a few other Wanstead warriors.

Quick checks ensured my brain was still in the game (insert obligatory “not much to damage” joke here) and that I wasn’t about to repaint the road red. The diagnosis? A fashion crisis in the form of a ruffled jacket and possibly a busted leg.

Thanks to a traffic snafu on the A406, my new chill-out spot became the tarmac, which, spoiler alert, is surprisingly unwelcoming. Despite some locals’ desperate pleas for me to relocate before their curry went cold, the Wanstead Safer Neighbourhoods Team (SNT) stood guard like modern-day knights, ensuring I wasn’t moved until help arrived. Their dedication warmed me more than the space-age blanket they wrapped me in.

The night’s silver lining? A ride in a police van (because who needs ambulances?) got me VIP treatment at the hospital – apparently, arriving in handcuff-style is the fast pass there. The King George squad were rock stars, confirming my leg’s new status as ‘officially broken’ but keeping the spirits high and the pain low.

Five months on, I’m back on both feet with a heart full of gratitude for every act of kindness – from those first on the scene to the driver, who turned out to be a decent guy. A huge shoutout to resident angels Carrie and Christine, to the many passers-by who stopped and helped, the Wanstead SNT, heroes without capes, and the Eton Manor crew who helped me move house as I looked on immobile. 

Above all, thanks to my wife, Karen, the true hero of this saga. If you see her, treat her to an iced coffee; she’s earned it.

Paul Canal is a Wanstead resident and Conservative councillor for Bridge ward. 


Park life

P3218104©Diane Dalli

In the 11th of a series of articles featuring the images of local photographers who document the wildlife of Wanstead Park and the surrounding area, Diane Dalli presents her shot of a Skylark on Wanstead Flats

I enjoy roaming Wanstead Flats, looking for birds to photograph at different times of the year. During the wet and windy conditions in April, there seemed to be a scarcity of birds, but when I visited recently, there was a lot more activity with many birds looking their best in their breeding plumage and singing loudly to attract a mate. Most noticeable were the Skylarks with their beautiful warbling song.

Skylarks can be seen hopping in the meadow grass, sometimes perching on a log to sing, and at other times rising up into the sky. They sing loudly as they go higher and higher until they are just a dot in the distance, hover for a while and then plummet back to earth again. It is thought that singing at a great height helps to spread the sound further to attract any local female Skylarks.

Wanstead Flats is the nearest Skylark breeding site to central London, and as Skylark numbers have been declining in recent times, a plan to help them survive in this location was put in place by cordoning off two areas during the breeding season. Skylarks are ground nesters, so their nests are very prone to disturbance by footfall, dogs off the lead and predation by foxes and rats. The plan to protect them seems to have paid off, with a small yearly increase in their numbers (at least four birds fledged the nest last year).

To photograph them, it is best to locate the source of the singing, and once a bird is spotted on the ground, follow it as it hops about. If you are lucky, it will perch on a log or post and present a clear view. However, to get a picture of one as it soars into the sky is challenging to say the least! Lying flat on my back in the grass seemed to be the best position, ignoring any curious glances from passers-by!  

Although some walkers have expressed their resentment at the temporary barriers, most people view it as a very small price to pay for more views and sounds of these beautiful, iconic birds.

To view more of Diane’s wildlife photos, visit


Time for flexitime


Jo Cullen from local solicitors Edwards Duthie Shamash takes a look at the improvements to employee rights following last month’s changes to the flexible working request regime

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example, having flexible start and finish times, or working from home. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. On 6 April 2024, changes to the new flexible working request regime came into force. The headline changes include:

  • An employee can request flexible working from their first day of employment; there is no qualification period.
  • When making a request, an employee no longer has to explain what effect, if any, they think their requested change will have on their employer and how any such effect might be dealt with. 
  • An employee is entitled to make two requests in any 12-month period. 
  • An employer will not be permitted to refuse a request unless the employee has been consulted. 
  • The time for an employer to make a decision is reduced from three to two months.

The new rules are very much to the benefit of the employee, giving them the ability to request flexibility from their first day of employment. There has been much debate about this Day One right and the impact the change may have on employers. However, flexible working is increasingly a topic for discussion during the recruitment process, and the impact may not be as great as initially expected with prospective employees looking to agree varied terms before starting employment.  

Whilst an employee has the right to request flexible working, an employer does not have to agree to the request if it is not feasible and the rejection reasoning falls within one of the business reasons that continue to apply as set out in the legislation.  

Employers will have to deal promptly with requests within the new set time limits, although there is still scope to extend this time by agreement. Any request must be fully considered and discussed. Where a request is not to be agreed, a full consultation must take place and all steps taken clearly documented, including details around variations to the proposed changes or alternative roles to reduce the risk of an appeal and, ultimately, a claim being issued.  

Employers will need to be ready to implement these changes and ensure they are familiar with the new rules and the updated Acas statutory code of practice on requests for flexible working.

Edwards Duthie Shamash is located at 149 High Street, Wanstead, E11 2RL. For more information, call 020 8514 9000 or visit


Working Environment


Councillor Jo Blackman, Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability, shares her journey of reconnecting with nature through local volunteer conservation work

The state of the world, degradation of the environment and climate doom can leave us feeling anxious and frustrated. Our busy lives and over-exposure to the digital world can also take its toll on our stress levels and mental health. But it is well documented that connecting to the environment can decrease stress and improve your mental health. Being in nature brings benefits, as does the physical exercise of the activity we undertake there. 

Whilst I spend a lot of time working on environmental policy as cabinet member for the environment on Redbridge Council, and through my work with environmental charities, too little of my time is spent actually in the environment. So, I recently dedicated two days to help two charities with local conservation work. 

I spent a day in waders with the river charity Thames21, an organisation helping to bring stakeholders together to look after our rivers. We helped enhance the habitat in the River Roding adjacent to Wanstead Park by installing deflectors, which are basically logs secured to the riverbed, providing a home for wildlife and slowing the flow of the river. I spent another day on dry land helping the Epping Forest Heritage Trust (where I am a trustee) conserve the acid grasslands – which also provide a vital habitat for nature – by removing saplings and clearing bramble. 

On both days we were joined by volunteers, some local and some from further afield, a mix of ages, backgrounds and professions. All shared the common desire to get out from behind their desks and do something to help the environment. Very few of us had any previous conservation experience and both charities provided all the equipment and advice needed. Whilst the work would have been very slow going individually, as a group, we made good progress. After several hours, we were able to look proudly at the contribution we had made to conserving these important spaces. It gave me fresh insights into the challenges facing nature in our urban environment – including climate change, litter, invasive species and pollution. And it renewed my resolve to do all I can in my work as a councillor, as well as with charities, to preserve and enhance our environment.

Many companies allow staff to spend one or two days a year volunteering, though many people don’t take advantage of this. There are also opportunities to volunteer with Vision in the Roding Valley and other Redbridge parks as part of their conservation work. And for those who can’t devote a whole day, there are plenty of opportunities locally to spend an hour or two helping out – with our amazing community gardeners or litter pickers.

Jo Blackman is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward.

For more information on conservation volunteering, follow the links below:

Epping Forest Heritage Trust


Vision RCL

Litter picking sessions also take place in Wanstead on the third Saturday of each month. For more information, email


Win tickets to Wanstead Park’s open-air summer shows


Award-winning open-air theatre company Illyria will return to Wanstead Park this summer with three family-friendly performances.

The new season begins on 21 July with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, followed by The Hound of the Baskervilles on 13 August and Doctor Dolittle on 24 August.

All shows will take place in the park’s Temple enclosure.

In May, June and July, the Wanstead Village Directory will be offering a pair of tickets as the prize for the crossword competition.



Medical Emergency

Screenshot 2024-04-29 at 16.19.51PPG Chair Terilla Barnard speaking at the Health Scrutiny Committee meeting

In the third of a series of articles charting the challenges facing Aldersbrook Medical Centre, Paul Wildish from the patient participation group explains some of the small campaign victories achieved so far

It’s already two weeks into April as I write this and the patients of Aldersbrook Medical Centre (AMC) still have no resolution to the question: who is going to run our doctor’s surgery after June?

Those who have been following our story here will know that AMC’s patient participation group (PPG) have been busy organising street protests, lobbies and meetings. We aimed to convince the managers of NE London Integrated Care Board (ICB) that the new contract they wanted to impose on us fell far short of our reasonable expectations of service and medical care.

The AMC PPG has been determined in its resistance to the ICB when it constructively forced out our current GP providers by offering a renewed contract with a 10% cut in the budget if they wanted to stay. For a practice already working on a break-even basis, this was impossible for our Richmond Road providers to be able to manage. They felt forced to give notice that they couldn’t continue under those conditions. Since then, the ICB has tried to spin a tale that the providers had decided to hand in their notice out of the blue and that they wanted to give patients ‘security’ by making our surgery a ‘branch’. This would make AMC an add-on to any interested local GP practice that wanted to bid to take us on but not necessarily guarantee us the same level of service.

Since we last reported in this publication, we have taken our case directly to ICB, sending delegates to question their plans and putting forward our alternative viewpoint at two ICB meetings. We were well supported by patients staging friendly protests at the foot of the ICB offices in Stratford. We were also able to put our case to Redbridge Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee. Our delegation was supported by AMC patients who filled the public gallery, demonstrating to the councillors our commitment to the cause. We were pleased to receive a good hearing from councillors on the committee. Following Sarah See’s response on behalf of the ICB, councillors Sheila Bain, Daniel Morgan-Thomas and Bob Chattaway asked probing questions, which drew out the inconsistencies of the ICB’s position. We came away much encouraged with the knowledge the issue would be followed up at a future council meeting.

While it feels it’s a hard slog to gain any traction, we have won some significant concessions, most importantly the ICB abandoning the idea that AMC should be a ‘branch’ of another practice. Instead, they have recognised it should be a second site, fully staffed and realistically funded. We have also persuaded the ICB to reopen negotiations with the Richmond Road providers, whose long-term continuation at AMC is the patients’ preferred solution.

For more information about the Aldersbrook Medical Centre patient participation group, visit


Wanstead High School’s centenary ball is open to all

DSCF0882©Geoff Wilkinson

Wanstead High School will be holding a ball next month to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary.

“Everyone is welcome, be they current parents, former pupils or members of the community who are keen to support the school by helping us raise funds,” said a PTA spokesperson. The event – which will be held in a marquee at Eton Manor RFC on 15 June – includes a three-course dinner and will feature eighties cover band The Nightshift, fronted by two parents from the school (tickets: £60).



Pick up a leaflet and find out how to welcome wildlife into your garden


Wanstead Climate Action has produced a leaflet to give residents ideas on how to attract birds, bugs and other creatures into their gardens.

“Our gardens are increasingly important as wildlife havens and corridors, or they can be with just a few additions and adjustments, for example, being less tidy and leaving leaf and log piles around will provide food and shelter for beetles,” said a spokesperson.

The A3 folded leaflets can be collected from The Stow Brothers (117A High Street), which is sponsoring the initiative.




It’s been 21 years since Marian Temple first put a garden fork into what she calls an SPPS (Sad Patch of Public Soil). Out of that small action grew the dedicated Wanstead Community Gardeners, who invite you to celebrate with them this month

In April 2003, the power of ‘feduppery’ kicked in big time when I was walking past the Corner House Garden, a sorry sight indeed! Waist-high in weeds and full of takeaway food rubbish and pigeon spikes that had descended from on high. What a sight! What did the hundreds of people who walked past it every day think about it? Something had to be done. 

With the encouragement of the Wanstead Society and agreement of the council, a small group of us got going to turn this sad patch of soil into the cottage garden that has graced our High Street for the last two decades. Weeds and rubbish out, compost and leaf mould from our own gardens added and joined by plants from our gardens and those of passers-by. Hey presto! In its first summer, it was a great improvement and by the second year (pictured here) it was a total delight. The hollyhocks had always been there but they were joined by seven-foot high mulleins, a British native, achillia, crocosmia, anthemis, poppies… the list is endless. We used wild flowers and cottage garden plants that would need little maintenance and wouldn’t be fast food for the slugs.

An old-fashioned garden is a constantly changing procession of flowers, each flowering in its season. There’s always something new to see. This iconic garden has been a favourite with Wansteadians ever since its inception. I loved it when an elderly lady told me: “I haven’t seen that flower since I was a kid. It was in my nan’s garden.” Yes! We’ve arrived. That’s what we wanted. A cottage garden in the middle of a London high street. Not bad!

That was the beginning of the story and it was a long time ago. We still carry on in an effectively ramshackle way, but we are a bit more official now, meaning we are a small charity, have insurance, a bank account, have done our first-aid courses etc. However, our propensity for land grabbery proved insatiable. Our real estate portfolio is bulging. We maintain over 40 patches of former SPPS (Sad Patches of Public Soil) from near to the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone down to Snaresbrook. Our patches range from modest tree pits to perennial borders and full-sized gardens. We have a Gravel Garden where the drug dealers used to do their stuff. They disappeared. A traffic roundabout has been turned into the quirkiest garden patch ever with a “Back in 10 minutes” sign and the present jewel in the crown is a wall garden. I don’t mean a garden surrounded by a wall. I mean a garden on top of a wall. Basically, no sad patch of unloved earth is safe from our depredations. 

We’ve had 21 years of this. Time to celebrate. On Sunday 19 May, we will be in the back garden of the Corner House for tea and cakery. With photos of our years of activity, we’d be delighted to see and chat with you. Please join us and celebrate 21 years of street gardening in Wanstead.

The Wanstead Community Gardeners will be holding a celebration with refreshments and displays in the back garden of the Corner House (opposite the Co-op) on 19 May from 2pm. For more information, visit 


Notes of history

healeyHealey Willan

Parish organists of the past will be celebrated this month as the May Music Festival returns to St Mary’s Church. Plus, there’ll be a variety of performers, all with a local connection, says festival director Alison Wells

Following the inaugural festival last year, we are very pleased to present this year’s event, which has a feast of music and performers, all with a local connection.

As you’ll see on the poster, we start with a saxophone quintet led by Melanie Henry, an Aldersbrook resident whom I first encountered when we were both professors at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. Melanie is bringing a quartet of brilliant young players from Trinity Laban, including another Aldersbrook resident, and they promise a highly entertaining evening of a wide range of music with Melanie herself playing and compering.

The organ day, which proved very popular last year, will feature a talk about organists past and present of the Parish of Wanstead. There have been a few well-known composers, for example, Healey Willan (1880–1968), who was Director of Music from 1900 until 1903 and who later emigrated to Canada in 1911. He was an expert on plainsong and we are aiming to have a few of his organ pieces played in the concert.  

Also well known was Montagu Phillips (1885–1969), who succeeded Healey Willan, although he was better known for his popular songs rather than his organ works. However, we’re hoping to include some of his compositions.

Parishioner Davis Watson has also been digging around in the archives to find out more about the previous Directors of Music and has found interesting characters there, including some ancestors of present-day parishioners. Davis and Michael Tivey, one of our team of organists, will be giving a talk about them – and they promise a few organist-related jokes! This will be followed by a recital of organ music by members of the parish team and other local organists or those connected with the parish.  

And the Bank Holiday Monday will see the extraordinary spectacle of All Rest, a site-specific composition by local composer Simone Spagnolo, setting words by the writer Serena Braida. The audience will join a chorus of ghosts as they take you around the churchyard to meet some of its inhabitants. Featuring six solo singers and instruments, this is a world premiere coming to Wanstead. Be sure not to miss it.

Tickets for all events are available from Wansteadium using the QR code on the poster and there will also be tickets available on the door. Please note, tickets for All Rest will be limited to 40, so book up early for that one. Why not buy a season ticket for all three events and save a little on the price? We’re really looking forward to welcoming you all to our beautiful church of St Mary’s.

For more information and to book tickets, visit


History of Notes


Ahead of a Living Landscapes concert in Aldersbrook this month, The Woodford Singers’ musical director Kath Savage offers some insight into her own musical journey

I trained in music at Dartington College of Arts, studying singing and flute, launching my solo career with several performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, subsequently singing for several years with The Cornel Music Group, and also with the BBC Northern Singers. After further freelance work in the National Tour and West End production of Cabaret, I met my husband, a West End musical director. 

I also worked for the Council for Music in Hospitals giving concerts for long-stay patients in hospices, hospitals and prisons, bringing music to those not able to venture out, and to some who had lost their connection with the art for whatever reason. I became increasingly interested both in the physiology of the voice itself and the psychology of singing. 

Singing has always been a huge part of my and my family’s life. Believing I could sing anything, I took on everything that was offered, so my voice deteriorated with overwork; I lost confidence and indeed the very essence of my being. As I now know, many performers suffer such burnout and I am eternally grateful to two mentors who helped pick me up and put me back on track.   

This, plus marriage, changed my direction from performing to teaching, leading several school music departments. For 12 years, I was the singing coordinator at Performers College, one of the UK’s major stage schools, and later taught at Bird College. It has been a privilege to nurture developing voices, guide young professionals and rehabilitate ‘shot’ voices, which continues to be most rewarding in my own private practice.  

In 2011, I came into contact with a small number of women eager to sing, but who sought guidance to develop into a musically tight and high-quality choir. This small group soon became the nucleus of The Woodford Singers, now numbering 30 committed members, who I am proud to lead and work with on Wednesday evenings.

The choir started with a handful of singers and some shaky performances in small venues. We now perform to sell-out audiences across Essex and North East London, and we’re looking forward to celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2026. Next year will see our second performing tour, this time to the Isle of Wight. Another important development is the patronage of Canadian composer Sarah Quartel, who will soon be travelling to the UK to watch ‘her’ choir perform. But readers won’t have to travel quite so far; we’ll be performing in Aldersbrook this month.

The Woodford Singers will perform at St Gabriel’s Church, Aldersbrook on 19 May from 5pm (tickets: £10; under-12s: £5). To book tickets, visit

For more information on The Woodford Singers, visit