Endangered in Wanstead


The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the third of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Nicola Steele offers tips for saving our sparrows

The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch 2021 revealed that sparrows remain the UK’s most frequently spotted bird. Yet their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. Wanstead’s streets must have been alive with their noisy conversations when hedges and front gardens were the norm, and the species was able to flourish on our doorsteps.

House sparrows are social birds and live together in big groups called colonies. They build their nests in the eaves or crevices of buildings, and in ivy, bushes and hedges. Nests are made from a variety of materials like dry grasses and feathers. They lay around three to five eggs and will have at least two clutches a year. The chicks are fed on regurgitated insects.

Sparrows are on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern and are a priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Around 60% of house sparrows have been lost since the mid-1970s, and declines have been particularly acute in large cities like London. Research is underway to find out why. Starvation of chicks due to a lack of insects may contribute to the problem. High nitrogen dioxide levels from traffic pollution have also been linked to declines. There are colonies of sparrows peppered around Wanstead. There is anecdotal evidence that some may be increasing from a low base, but in other locations, they continue to be lost as people remove the hedges and other places where they live. If you’re lucky enough to live near a colony, sparrows can seem ubiquitous because of the number and the energetic and noisy nature of the birds. However, there are huge gaps around our local area where you walk for long periods without encountering a single sparrow; this would likely have been unthinkable until recently.

How to help:

  • Provide food and water for sparrows in your garden. They’ll happily visit bird feeders, but if you can, feed them mealworms or waxworms, especially when they’re rearing their chicks in late spring and early summer (April to August).
  • Make your garden a haven for insects – that means one thing, lots of foliage. Large areas of paving for drives and patios, along with plastic grass, are disastrous for city insects and wildlife more generally – dig some of it up or cover it with planters to re-green your plot. Ground-dwelling insects, such as beetles, generally benefit from dense vegetation, including evergreens. Flying insects need flowers across the year – look out for ones with the Plants for Pollinators logo. Find ideas at
  • Other great habitats for insects are long-grass areas, mini wild flower meadows, leaf and log piles and bug hotels. Never use slug pellets or pesticides.
  • Plant hedges and shrubs to provide shelter and foraging habitats for sparrows, such as hawthorn or viburnum.
  • Have a bird bath – sparrows love a communal splash-about when it’s warm.
  • Install a sparrow nest box terrace.
  • It’s really important to protect colonies, as house sparrows can take a long time to return to areas from where they’ve disappeared. If you’re lucky enough to have sparrows living nearby, work with your neighbours to ensure everyone understands how important it is not to damage their nest sites.

For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit


Art, Past & Park

ba-obj-14682-0001-pub-print-lgWanstead House by Richard Westall (1765–1836). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Historian and author Dr Hannah Armstrong talks about her earliest memories of Wanstead Park and her personal journey to writing Wanstead House: East London’s Lost Palace

My mum tells me that she took me to Wanstead Park just days after I was born. We lived in Langley Drive, just a stone’s throw away; in fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t going to the park as a child! I have a very vivid memory of looking up at the Grotto and my mum telling me about a house. I remember thinking the Grotto was the house and then later feeling surprised at how large it actually was. My dad’s job took us overseas and I left Wanstead at eight years old, so it was not until about 15 years later that I was reunited with this interest.

I have always loved art and design, so it seemed only natural to me to apply to art school. I studied at Camberwell, specialising in textile design, specifically embroidery and screen printing. In my second year, I wrote a dissertation about William Morris and his ideology of art for all. That really set something alight for me. From that point, it became clear I wanted to turn my attention to the history of design and so applied for the MLitt in Decorative Arts and Design History at Glasgow University. That year changed everything for me.

During my Masters, I developed an interest in 18th-century interiors and domesticity, specifically, how they were represented in conversation pieces (informal group portraits). I would occasionally come across references to Wanstead, and I was amazed and excited to learn that such a significant house once stood in the park I used to visit as a child. Realising it was relatively understudied in academia, I applied for funding and was delighted to be accepted to study for my PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London. I was incredibly fortunate to be supervised by Kate Retford, a wonderful historian who has written much on Georgian conversation pieces and the country house.

The part of my PhD I most enjoyed were my archive days at the Essex Record Office and the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Centre. It is an incredible experience to hold a letter in your hands written by someone you have spent so much time thinking and writing about. I find those moments very moving, as if we are connected in time through one artefact. Other highlights included having access to visit a house in Hills Road, Cambridge where I could finally encounter real fragments of building fabric from Wanstead House.

If I could go back in time, I would love to meet Richard Child, 1st Earl Tylney, and watch Wanstead House being constructed and see its interior flourish. I would be really interested to see the Elizabethan manor that stood on the site prior to the building of Colen Campbell’s classical mansion. And I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall when Richard and Campbell met!

I have really enjoyed writing about the furnishing of Wanstead House, transporting myself into Wanstead House and imagining how it must have felt to experience the house. It was great fun piecing together its interior through reading visitor accounts, studying floor plans and analysing famous portraits by Hogarth and Nollekens.

My plans for the future include giving some talks later in the year at St Mary’s Church, Wanstead, the Copped Hall Trust and at Wanstead Fringe. I am also excited about the new developments at Wanstead Park, in particular, the restoration of the Grotto boathouse structure. I hope my book will help to generate interest and support for the park’s long-term preservation.

This article was based on an interview with Nigel Franceschi of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands, which commissioned the book.

Wanstead House: East London’s Lost Palace will be published in March 2022. Pre-orders receive 40% off the £45 retail price. For more information, visit


Deep Roots


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 seventh of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrates her 90th birthday this month – shares a photo of herself in Wanstead Park in the 1950s

The ‘merry month of May’ is my birth month, and this year is a special one as I will celebrate my 90th birthday. May is also one of my favourite times of the year, when nature has sprung into life, the weather is warm, the garden is full of flowers, and summer is on its way. 

May is also my favourite time to visit Wanstead Park. I have loved going there since I was a little girl, when my mother used to take me in the summer and we would meet my Aunt May and cousin Audrey for a picnic of sandwiches and rock cakes. Audrey and I used to climb up a little hill we called the ‘mountain’. This was part of the landscaping of the original grounds of Wanstead House when it was a stately home. I also remember, of course, the Grotto, which is the ruins of the old boathouse and the lovely old Chalet tea house, which sadly burned down.

Later, as a teenager, Wanstead Park was the place where we girls would go for a romantic evening walk with our boyfriends. However, we had to be careful not to stay out too late – the park keeper locked the gates in the evening and we would then have to climb over to get out!

When I had children of my own we would often go there in the summer for a picnic with our wicker picnic basket, a big thermos of tea, sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, and later, we took our little granddaughter. The poem presented here is about the first time she came to Wanstead Park with us and hugged her first tree.

Wanstead Park in May is bursting with fresh new life. Everywhere are the ‘darling buds of May’, the lacy white froth of cow parsley, the delicate bell-like flowers of wood anemones, furry grey catkins, ferns unfurling, brimstone yellow flag irises by the fringe of the lake. The birds are singing their hearts out and “the green woods laugh with the voice of joy.”

But above all, the park is at its loveliest in May when the bluebells are flowering. There is something almost holy about the bluebell woods, which reminds me of the feeling one has when entering a cathedral. The peace and stillness, the tall tree trunks soaring up to the heavens like stone columns, the soft shafts of light filtering through the leaf canopy, and the bluebells in azure drifts of hazy smoke-blue, giving up their fragrance to the air like incense. And, as in a place of worship, I sit quietly, drinking in all the beauty around me, and feel very close to God, who has created it.

Take and Give
by Jean Medcalf

Last Sunday afternoon we took a walk
My family and I
Plus, for the first time, Victoria.

We fed the ducks, then walked into the woods.
I found a chestnut tree – as is my wont
I put my arms around it for loving help.
It took from me my fears and uncertainties
And gave to me tranquillity and love.

I said goodbye and turned to walk away
And as I did I saw my actions copied.
Like a small bright butterfly clinging to the trunk,
Face pressed to the bark, a small girl
Laughed in imitation of her grandmother.

She took nothing from the tree
But gave to it her sparkling love of life
Her joy and champagne laughter.

She was so small as to be near the roots.
Her brightness will be stored
In readiness for future visitors
Seeking hope, and calm, and love.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£4.75). Visit


Opening up again


Teresa Farnham is a local area organiser for the National Garden Scheme, which encourages people to open their gardens to the public for charity. Here’s a taster of the nearby gardens you can view this summer

It’s that time of year when gardens start to open to support the National Garden Scheme (NGS). Due to Covid restrictions in 2020, only a handful of gardens could open. However, London gardeners still managed to raise nearly £28,000, providing critical support to the nursing and health charities the NGS supports.

Many people have visited local NGS gardens in the past. This year please, please, please continue to do so! The garden owners work extremely hard to open their spaces for viewing, some with plants for sale and most with tea and cakes available. All money collected goes directly to the NGS. The gardens are generally open without booking, but for some, pre-booking is essential via the NGS website (it’s best to check online for confirmation that gardens are open as well).

Many London gardens are small, and garden owners have to work hard for interest that the larger country gardens can provide with less effort. My own garden at 17 Greenstone Mews in Wanstead (open on 11 July from 12.30pm to 4pm) is a good example, measuring just 20 feet by 17 feet. It features a mature strawberry tree and a buried bath used as a fishpond, surrounded by climbers clothing fences underplanted with herbs, vegetables, shrubs and perennials grown from cuttings.

A new garden opening this year is at 110 Perth Road, Ilford (open on 31 July from 1pm to 5pm). This is a long, thin garden that combines plants from the tropics, the Mediterranean and Japan, as well as the UK. Another larger new garden is at 26 College Gardens, Chingford (open on 6 June from 2pm to 5pm). It is approximately two-thirds of an acre with a sun terrace leading to established borders and a plethora of climbing roses.

There will also be four different gardens situated on the Aldersbrook Estate (1 Clavering Road, 21 Park Road, 4 Empress Avenue and 47 St Margaret’s Road, all open on 4 July from 12 noon to 5pm). Planting includes a colour-themed garden, a garden designed in circles and curves, a kitchen garden and chicken coop (there may be fresh eggs for sale), and a large garden with a medley of planting and different areas.

In South Woodford, you will find a pretty Victorian terraced house with a dog-friendly, Italian patio-style garden at 25 Mulberry Way (open on 27 June from 1pm to 5pm), and a delightful wildlife-friendly garden on two levels at the rear of 83 Cowslip Road (open on 11 July from 2pm to 5pm).

A huge thank you to all the incredible garden owners and their helpers who welcome you, the garden visitors, to raise such fantastic funds for charity. If you would like to open your own garden in 2022, do get in touch.

For a full list of gardens, entry costs and opening times, visit

For more information on taking part in 2022, email


The return of Wanstead Park’s hidden painted stones


A series of painted stones have started to be found in Wanstead Park again.

“We started decorating and hiding stones here three years ago. I first saw painted stones in Broadstairs and thought it was a great idea. The thrill of the hunt! We used to hide some each week until the pandemic took over, and have just recently restarted,” said Christine Howett.

Once found, the stones can be kept or rehidden, and finders are encouraged to post a photo on the Wanstead Park Tea Hut Facebook group.



Deep roots

Wanstead-United-Reformed-Church-DK©David Kavanagh

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 sixth of a series of articles, Jean introduces a poem about Easter and remembers her time at church. Painting of Wanstead United Reformed Church by David Kavanagh

My husband and I were married at St Mary’s Church in 1957 by my husband’s uncle the Rev John Medcalf (known as Jack), who was the vicar at that time. The Medcalf family were regular worshippers at St Mary’s and they have a family tomb in the churchyard. Uncle Jack and his wife had recently bought their first television set and they could never agree on which programme to watch – they used to go to their next-door neighbour and ask them to arbitrate!

After we had children, we went to the Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) on Nightingale Lane as it was closer to our home. The vicar at the time was the Reverend Alan Bound, who was very nice. This church has an interesting history, as it used to stand on the site of the current St Pancras Station. When the station was planned, the church was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt in Wanstead. The church appeared on Songs of Praise in 1966.

My children went to Sunday School there, run by Mrs Chew and her husband; they also joined the Cubs and Girls’ Brigade. We soon got to know the Forster family: Gordon Forster was the church organist and became a great friend of my husband, as they both loved organ music. Gordon actually built the organ console himself, and the photo here, taken in 1970, shows him playing it.

Eileen Forster was the captain of the Girls’ Brigade. She lived near me, and her daughter Celia used to walk my daughter there each week. The girls did lots of badges, and they also did army drilling where they had to stand at attention, stand at ease and learn how to march in step! The Girls’ Brigade held a reunion to celebrate its centenary a few years ago, and Eileen attended at the age of 87 and cut the celebration cake.

The Scout troop used to put on a Gang Show every year with songs and comedy sketches, which was very popular. Our neighbour Dennis Anderton used to help with the Cubs and he sometimes took his labrador along with him. This dog had a strange habit of howling loudly in the back garden every Monday and Wednesday evening – we later discovered that he couldn’t bear the theme tune of Coronation Street!

As well as Scouts and Girls’ Brigade, the church hall was also used for the baby clinic, jumble sales and dances, summer fetes and Christmas bazaars, and a May fair with the crowning of a May Queen. It was also used by the amateur dramatics society The Cromwell Players, which was also run by Mr Anderton.

I joined the Christ Church Young Wives group too – it was similar to the Mothers’ Union but no doubt Young Wives sounded more modern. I made some good friends there – and we are still friends 50 years later.

Moveable Feast:
Easter, St John’s

by Jean Medcalf

Sorry, God
I’ve not been to see You
For so long – until Today
Forgive me

I’d forgotten the beauty of Communion
Forgotten the peace of God
which passeth all understanding
Forgotten the Paschal Candle
The Paten and the Chalice,
the wafer and the wine,
The height of the church
where I was confirmed
It was like coming home

Take, eat, this is my Body
which is given for you
This is my Blood of the New Testament
Do this in remembrance of me

I’d not presumed to come to thy Holy Table.
Like Martha,
I’d been cumbered about
with much serving
I’d been careful and troubled
about many things
Family, friends, house, dog, garden.
I’d forgotten that good part,
the needful thing

But now I’ve remembered, presumed and returned
Now I’m back
I won’t leave it
So long
Next time.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£4.75). Visit

To view more of David Kavanagh’s local artwork, visit


Walks past Wanstead

Screenshot-2021-03-08-at-14.04.57©2021 Google

Russell Kenny and Paul Hayes have devised a series of self-guided history walks around the Wanstead area which can be followed on a smartphone or from a printable guide. In the fourth of a series of articles championing these tours through time, we look at the history to be found on the edges of Wanstead Flats

Most of the buildings around the edges of Wanstead Flats date from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. The rapid development in this era followed the coming of the railways. Forest Gate Station opened in 1840, Leytonstone Station in 1856 and Manor Park Station in 1873.  

The Georgian Manor House, which still stands in Manor Park, was built around 1810.  The Eastern Counties Railway bought land near the house for their planned new line to Norwich in 1837. The house was sold and later used as an Industrial School to train boys in practical skills. It is now divided into flats.

Manor Park Cemetery was opened in 1875 and has some interesting Victorian graves.  Some notable people buried there are Annie Chapman, the second of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Orchard, the nanny of some of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, including Alexandra who married Tsar Nicholas and was executed along with her family in the Russian revolution, and William Thomas Ecclestone who, when he died in 1905, was thought to be the second-heaviest man in the world. Two young heroes are buried there too. John Clinton was a 10-year-old-boy who in 1894 saved another boy from drowning in the Thames, but was then himself drowned. Jack Cornwell was buried here in 1916, aged 16, and was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery at the Battle of Jutland during World War One.

On the corner of the Flats nearest Forest Gate is an area that at the turn of the 20th century was a centre of local social life. The Monkey Parade for courting couples to promenade, a bandstand (since demolished), and the Angell Pond, named after the engineer who built it, are here. Further around the Flats in 1908, the Model Yacht Pond (now the Jubilee Pond) was built. This part of the Flats has a history of hosting circuses and fairgrounds, and before that, horse fairs.

After passing the sites of two World War Two prisoner of war camps, we reach the iconic John Walsh and Fred Wigg tower blocks, which look out over the Harrow Road Playing Fields. In Davies Lane, past the school attended by Jonathan Ross, we get to the Pastures, once a home for “Fallen Girls” and those “rescued from persons or houses of ill-fame”. It was founded in 1876 and run by Miss Agnes Cotton, a social reformer and philanthropist. Born locally into the wealthy philanthropic Cotton family, Miss Cotton was known as Sister Agnes because she often wore a veil and dressed in black.

At the top of Leytonstone High Road there are more interesting historical houses. Leytonstone House, now next to Tesco, was built around 1800 and was originally the home of Sir Edward North Buxton and his family. He was a partner in the London brewers Truman, Hanbury & Company, based in Brick Lane. In 1868, the house and its grounds became another Industrial School, set up to teach practical skills to boys who were orphaned or destitute, to enable them to make a living. It went on to become a children’s home, a hospital and is now offices.

Other interesting buildings in the area are the 19th-century cottages of Leytonstone Village, and further down the High Road, near The Birds pub, a row of beautiful, Grade II-listed Georgian Houses. Built in the mid-18th century, and originally surrounded by fields, they are now tucked away behind a row of shops and hemmed in by the Victorian houses that sprang up with the coming of the railways.

To view or print the walking guides and maps, visit


Endangered in Wanstead


The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the second of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Alex Deverill explains how to help smooth newts thrive in your garden

Anyone with a pond will tell you that newts are welcome visitors – engaging little creatures with a handy appetite for slugs. The best time to spot them is March to October. Smooth newts are generally brown in colour with a yellow or orange belly with small black spots. The males develop an impressive wavy crest along their backs in the breeding season, making them look like miniature dinosaurs. In fact, on land, their skin can take on a velvety appearance and they can be mistaken for lizards.

Smooth newts spend part of the year in water and part on land. Adults head to ponds from the start of the breeding season in February through to around June. Spawn is laid as individual eggs wrapped in pondweed. Newt larvae breathe through external feathery gills which sprout from behind the head. It takes about 10 weeks for them to metamorphose into air-breathing juveniles. In late summer, both juvenile newts and adults leave the water. They can often be found sheltering in damp soil beneath logs and rocks. In winter, they stay hidden underground, among tree roots and in old walls.

Smooth newts are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They’re at risk because of the loss of the habitats where they live, particularly the removal of ponds, and the fragmentation of green spaces as more land is developed. In Wanstead, small garden ponds help support the species, but if these ponds are filled in or stocked with fish, or if gardens are paved over, newt populations will suffer. Here’s how you can help:

  • Newts need two types of habitat – a pond where they can breed and a surrounding land area containing slugs, snails and insects for them to eat, along with cover to hide from predators. There’s a great guide by The Wildlife Trusts on how to build a wildlife pond ( To create places in your garden where newts can hang out, consider a long grass area or a pile of old wood or leaves in a shady location.
  • Newts need insects to eat, so help mini-beasts thrive in your garden. That means having as many plants as you can. Ground-dwelling insects generally benefit from patches of dense vegetation where they can hide away. Large areas of paving for drives and patios are disastrous for city invertebrates and wildlife more generally.
  • Never use slug pellets, pesticides or weed killers in your garden. Instead, aim to attract lots of different wildlife to keep things in balance, using biological pest control if necessary.

For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit


Time of waste


We should all be helping to keep our streets and open spaces litter free, says Chair of the Wanstead Society Scott Wilding, who is keen for residents and businesses to take responsibility for their actions

Finally, we have some light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine and plan to get us out of lockdown. But we all know there is still a long way to go. In the period between now and (hopefully) end of June, our parks and open spaces will continue to be a refuge for families and friends to meet up.

But there is an uncomfortable truth in our use of these parks and open spaces: litter. Most Monday mornings – especially after we’ve had a good spell of weather – the bins on Christchurch Green are not just full but overflowing. Excess waste is blown around the park and caught up in birds and local wildlife. The plastics used in some disposable food and drink products will never biodegrade. So, what can we do about it?

We all have a responsibility
The fact is, if we see litter or waste in a park or open space, one of us put it there. So, if a bin is completely full, just take your rubbish home. Do your bit. Don’t neatly balance your disposable coffee cup on the top of the bin in the hope as it’s near the bin, it’s in the bin. Chances are it’ll get blown away to slowly pollute the ground.

More, larger bins
Having said the above, more and bigger bins in our parks would be sensible, and I was pleased to read more bins are indeed planned for Christchurch Green, especially given the plans for a new café there – our parks are being used more than ever. Perhaps even recycling bins so we can truly up our recycling game, especially in a London borough with poor recycling rates. Ultimately though, they only cure a symptom, not the illness, and where do we stop? If a bin is full – it’s full – no matter how many there are.

Cutting waste at source
COVID has seen the war on waste take a backward step. Think disposable masks, gloves and plastic coverings to protect food from infection. But as we exit COVID, retailers must continue good corporate social responsibility by producing less waste in food packaging. Gail’s and Costa both responded to a call to reduce waste when I spoke to them, and both use incentives to persuade customers to use fewer disposable items, although COVID has restricted everyone’s efforts.

There is still a long way to go, but cutting waste in general is, despite COVID, an aim we have to sign up to if we hope to tackle the climate emergency. It has never been someone else’s responsibility to pick up after any of us, although there are some great volunteers who take part in litter picks – some daily – because they take pride in where we live. When all is said and done, and no matter how much someone else does, if the bin is full, take your rubbish home.

For more information on the Wanstead Society, visit


Submit your COVID stories to Redbridge Museum


Redbridge Museum is inviting Wanstead residents to submit their photos, videos, artwork and stories about life during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to know about your daily walks, working or schooling from home, and the ways your community has come together to support one another. Your stories will help to document the impact of the pandemic on our borough and will form part of the collections at Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre,” said a spokesperson.



Wellness in Wanstead


Having organised a popular Wellness Week in Wanstead six months ago, Elsa Arnold is now launching Wellness Festival 2021, a month of online events to help us all through the final straight of lockdown

After the success of the well-being week I organised in October last year, I am so excited to share that we’ve got another fabulous series of online events lined up to support people’s health and well-being through the last stretch of lockdown restrictions.

From 5 April to 14 May, you can join one of our free online events as part of our Wellness Festival 2021. The aim of the festival is to highlight the importance of taking time out to care for ourselves, and promote positive health and well-being.

It can be very easy to get caught up in our very busy and fast-paced lives, so I hope that even joining us for one of our events will help you become more aware of the benefits of taking time out to look after yourself. The festival will include events which focus on both mental and physical health, as well as giving you the opportunity to gain new skills and learn new things. All of the events are being run by individuals with small businesses, many of whom are local, and we are really pleased to be supporting them.

There is a mixture of practical activities for all ages including HIIT classes, fun dance classes, yoga and mindfulness, singing workshops and lots more, as well as some insightful talks and training opportunities for you to get involved with. Among the talks and workshops we currently have lined up are presentations on managing sleep and mental health first aid training.

We are also really pleased to be welcoming Dr Audrey Tang to our series of events, who will be running a session on motivation in May. Audrey is a very experienced psychologist with a lot of very insightful and practical advice, which I am sure many of you will find useful.

You can view the full list of events and register for them online. Spaces for some events are limited, so please make sure you sign up to save your spot!

All of the events for the festival are free. However, if you do take part and are able to, we would also like to encourage you to make a voluntary donation towards the mental health charity MIND. This summer, I am taking on the National Three Peaks Challenge – when I will be attempting to climb the highest mountains of England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours – in aid of MIND, who provide essential advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem and campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Anything you can give will be gratefully received and appreciated, and your donation will go directly to MIND.

For Wellness Festival 2021 event listings and booking, visit

To sponsor Elsa in her National Three Peaks Challenge, visit


Art, naturally

Polar-Bear-(Monochrome)©Stanley Lopata

Art Group Wanstead has launched a nature-themed challenge for local residents. Group founder Donna Mizzi introduces the project and explains how you can get involved

Most of us will continue to spend much time at home this year, but are you getting rather tired of seeing the same old street features while taking exercise around Wanstead? If so, this may capture your imagination…

Much as NHS rainbows added colour to our lives, the artwork and creativity of local residents – adults, teens and children – can add interest and vibrancy to our area. And art spotting can be an uplifting visual surprise for passers-by.

For that reason, Art Group Wanstead (AGW) – which has organised Art Trail Wanstead for a decade – this year urges residents to use their creativity and show their own work in front windows and gardens this spring and summer. ‘The year that nature took centre stage’ has been chosen as the theme by members of AGW. Local estate agent The Stow Brothers is supporting the project.

Most of us have appreciated the importance of nature over the past 12 months, and this is an amazingly wide theme. Your work can include anything connected with the natural world, on earth and beyond. You might be inspired to include a forest scene or your pet in the garden. Some of you have already focused paintings and photography on Bruce, the black swan which appeared on Eagle Pond (overheard comment: “See how black lives matter!”). Of course, rainbows will also never go out of fashion.

Work will only be limited by your imagination, and could include gardening projects or installations, and displays on your window-sills. You may want to place abseiling figures descending from climbing jasmine or hang your own hand-painted summery baubles from trees. If you’ve always wanted to make a topiary feature out of your hedge, then now is the time to do just that. If you want to create extravagant birdhouses, give it a go. Want to try your hand at mosaic with some of your broken china? Crack on.

Work can be paintings or drawings displayed from inside your front windows, or could be art in any form – including photography, pottery, glass or stonework and collages. One of our artists has suggested using outside fairy lights in a new creative way for summer evenings. Or paint and decorate jam jars to create lanterns. Battery nightlights are an inexpensive way to add safe candle effects, especially when children are involved. These Easter school holidays are a good time to start. On fairer days, children could even do chalk pavement art outside your home. Any materials, including recycled items from the home, can be used. Plastic bottles can often be cut into a myriad of forms and shapes for the garden: lightly sandpaper the plastic and add permanent felt-tip colours for rainproof features. Our website will gradually also feature some inspiring ideas and tutorials.

Naturally, some outside artwork will get weather-beaten in the months ahead. So gradually remove faded work and replace it with new art. As well as making you feel good, doing more work can even help develop skills that you might not have realised you possess. Release your inner Picasso, or simply enjoy adding splashes of colour.

There are no fees or registration requirements for this project. We are not calling for residents to join the group. We will just ask you to send us an email to tell us which road you are on and when you are starting to show your artwork. That way, we hope to list local streets (not house numbers) where artwork can be spotted, and maybe even build up a trail. Anyway, first step first. Start thinking about what you would love to create. Then set about doing it. Later, if you can send us a photo of your artwork or installation, we will start a photo feature on our website.

AGW has been established for encouragement and cooperation, not for critical assessments. This project is about enjoyable participation at all levels. As a voluntary, non-profit-making organisation, we have only one strict rule about our chosen set themes – and that is you don’t have to stick to them! They are there to inspire, but if you want to do something else entirely, go ahead.

If you have friends or relatives outside the area who wish they could take part, encourage them and tell them to email us some details. We’d love to know the furthest participant. Keep an eye on our website over the months ahead, but for now, fix your sights on your own homefront art space.

To notify the group of your participation, email For more information, visit