Watch this space

DSCF6488©Geoff Wilkinson

No one can fail to have noticed something happening on the traffic island between The George pub and Wanstead Station. The strings of bunting make it look a bit like a village fete. Hardly likely! This is the final stage of a project Wanstead Community Gardeners have had in mind for some time.   

Three years ago, we took over the wider empty part of this patch with the idea of planting wild flowers there. We had a degree of success, but problems with couch grass and ivy threatened to overwhelm the area. Also, the concrete-like soil didn’t help. Last year, our councillors advised us to apply for a council grant for help with this difficult patch. We were successful but there were complications.

The real game changer came when the council cut down the shrubs which filled the long neck of the traffic island down to the traffic lights as they had become a drivers’ sight line issue. Suddenly, we realised we could use the whole bed, a much larger area. We wanted to create a flower meadow there but conditions are tough. No possibility of watering and long dry spells. Time was ticking on for seed sowing. Finally, we managed the weed eradication programme and the necessary lapse of time, but we had some serious work to do before seeds could be sown.

With the coronavirus, the traffic on the dual carriageway was minimised and there were lots of people with time on their hands.  People gave what time they had.  Keeping a cow distance apart, they dug out the shrub roots and removed decades worth of rubbish trapped in the shrubs (every spadeful of earth brought up more bits of plastic, silver paper and cellophane). The concrete soil was pickaxed to loosen it and all was raked smooth. What a project! What a lot of hard work!

We had our sights firmly fixed on the date for the next real rain. Our seeds would need that to germinate. On 27 April, the deed was done. A very tough mix of seeds sown and footed in. That night, and for the next two days, it poured with rain. The answer to our prayers. There has been little rain since then but the seedlings are growing and the first ones are flowering: Californian desert bluebell. With a name like that, it has to be tough. Watch this space!

For more information on the work of the Wanstead Community Gardeners, email

Woodford Town FC still optimistic about return to local area


Woodford Town FC’s return to the local area has been delayed by lockdown, but club officials remain optimistic they will be playing at a revamped Ashton Playing Fields by the start of next season.

“Woodford were always a big name when I was growing up, and so many people have told me about the impact the club has had on their lives. We’re doing all we can to get Woodford home and hopefully a major force again,” said club chairman Tony Scott. The club currently groundshare with Harlow FC.



Annual cake sale raises over £21k for local children’s hospice

image7Cake sale outside The Cuckfield, Wanstead

An annual cake sale in aid of Haven House Children’s Hospice raised £21,695 in June, enough to pay for more than two days of care at the Woodford Green charity.

“I am totally amazed and overwhelmed how a little idea only a few weeks ago became such a fantastic event supported by the whole community. I thought I was going to have to cancel the 15th annual cake sale – which is usually held in our house and garden – until I thought about the idea of a virtual cake sale with the possibility of a stall outside so we could confirm to social distancing rules. Almost as soon as I put the idea out on our local neighbourhood group, I was inundated with offers of help. So, very quickly it evolved into a cake trail across Wanstead, Woodford, Walthamstow, Buckhurst Hill and even Australia and the USA! It was an incredible team effort,” said Michelle Vanlint.


Not on hold


Lockdown may have prevented South Woodford resident and Samaritans volunteer Barbara Collins from meeting people face to face, but volunteers are still answering the phone … and listening

When the lockdown began, I wondered how I could continue my volunteering work with Samaritans. I joined Redbridge Samaritans about five years ago after I retired. I really appreciated the chance to meet new people and felt I was contributing something useful to the community.

Since then, I have spent about three hours a week at our Ilford centre, taking phone calls, answering emails and seeing personal callers. I have enjoyed being a leader for other volunteers and leading our recruitment team. Both the update training and the ongoing support from other volunteers have been great.

As many readers will know, Samaritans has, for many years, provided a confidential listening service for people in emotional distress. People of all backgrounds contact us about all kinds of problems. These could be depression, loneliness, stressful situations at home or work, debt or abuse. We listen, give them a chance to get it out, and talk things through. Only about one in five calls or messages are from people feeling suicidal, and the vast majority of these aren’t actively planning to end their lives. Our branch has about 70 volunteers and answers 10,000 calls a year.

During lockdown we have had to make a few adjustments. For example, we are unable to meet callers face to face. Also, some of our volunteers are self-isolating. Across the country, about 30% of Samaritans volunteers have needed to self-isolate. Arrangements have been made to allow some of us to answer Samaritans emails from home, through a secure connection. Most Samaritans have continued to go into their branches to take calls. They have been designated as essential workers, allowing them to travel. In April, Samaritans worked with other organisations to set up a confidential telephone helpline dedicated to support NHS workers.

During this time, we have appreciated the many offers from people who want to volunteer. Due to Covid-19, we had to stop our face-to-face training, but please continue to register your interest online. We will get in touch as soon as we can start training volunteers again, either in person or online.

Fundraising for branches and for Samaritans nationally is a problem as many of our usual activities are not happening: no quiz evenings or other events involving gatherings. If you would like to donate to Samaritans nationally or locally, please do so online.

And most importantly, if you need our help, don’t forget we’re here to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We listen. We won’t judge or tell you what to do.

For more information on Redbridge Samaritans, visit

If you need help, call 116 123 for free or email


School friends


The newly formed Friends of Aldersbrook Riding School is seeking community support to help the much-loved venue jump the lockdown hurdle. Tracey Adebowale-Jones reports

Nestled among the woodlands of Wanstead Park, in an unlikely corner of east London, you will find Aldersbrook Riding School and Livery Stables. Founded in 1973 as a way to engage children with the joy of horses, the school has grown over the years into a place where young and old alike can learn or improve their horse-riding skills.

From beginner to professional, the stables offer a range of activities. The large indoor school provides all-weather provision and owners Steven Kiley and Jack Seager offer instruction for all levels.

Many in the local community have learned to ride there, as have the children and grandchildren of those horse riders, and there are many tales of adventure and fun to be told. Sara remembers: “I absolutely loved being at Aldersbrook in the late 1970s… my favourite was Tzar, but Rusty was adorable too. Fantastic memories… my daughter has the horse bug now… wonder how that happened!”

But, of course, like all businesses, the current pandemic meant the stables had to close its doors to the public. Staff (and horses) were furloughed and the stables ran on fresh air and determination. So, as a way of supporting the school, a group of volunteers set up Friends of Aldersbrook Riding School as both a way of advertising the venue and raising funds. To keep people, especially children, engaged with the horses, we ran a painting competition and placed information posters around the perimeter fences. So many people were visiting the horses that ‘Do Not Feed’ signs were needed to stop the horses growing too fat from carrots!

As we enter the new phase of lockdown, the school has been able to reopen in a small way, offering individual private lessons as opposed to the many group lessons that keep it going.

The school is a much-loved fixture of the community of Aldersbrook and Lakehouse residents. It offers access not only to riding skills but also to nature. But all of these are on hold until we are fully out of lockdown, so can you help?

We would like to invite businesses or individuals to sponsor a horse or buy a bag of feed. You could also support children in poverty to ride by ‘paying it forward’. Donations of plants, buckets, wheelbarrows or timber will help us to keep the stables well maintained. There is also a large indoor arena where we can display advertising banners. And as we head into 2021, the stables will be running small shows and sponsors will be able to appear on rosettes and trophies.  

For more information on the stables and how you can help, visit or call 020 8530 1087



Swan lakes


In the second of a series of articles celebrating the swans that reside on the lakes of Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats, Tracey Adebowale-Jones welcomes new life, locally and across the waterways of Britain

In Wanstead Park, we have three breeding pairs of swans on our four lakes (known to swans as territories), Perch Pond, Heronry Pond, Ornamental Waters and Shoulder Of Mutton Pond. Over on Wanstead Flats, we have a breeding pair (and very unusually a mistress!) on Alexander Lake, and on Jubilee Pond, we have a non-breeding flock.

Swan pairs will nest on the same territory every year unless they are driven away by another pair looking for a nesting site. The early months of spring often see many territorial spats on the lakes, which can result in injury or even death. Once established, however, it is a journey of hard work and waiting for the breeding pair.

The swans will spend many hours building their nest from twigs, leaves and vegetation. Sadly, as our litter problem becomes more of an issue, we will see plastic and bits of rubbish in the nest, so it is important that we keep our parks clean. The female (pen) will create a hollow in the middle of the nest as she builds the walls higher to keep safe from predators. The nest will usually be surrounded by water and hidden from sight as much as possible.

From late April, the pen will start laying and incubating, leaving the nest only to eat and bathe – but only for short periods. The male (cob) will be seen displaying his feathers as a sign to stay away and will stay close by to protect his mate and soon-to-be new family. Swans will lay up to 10 eggs; hatching occurs from May to June/July. Once the cygnets are hatched, it is a testing time for the parents as they protect them from gulls, pike, terrapins and, sadly, humans.

Last year, Wanstead Park saw eggs taken and smashed and the Perch pair lost all their cygnets to predators. The Ornamental pair were much luckier, having immediately moved their clutch to a safer nest site following hatching, and managed to keep seven of their eight cygnets.

It’s a difficult time for the swan volunteers too, as we keep close guard over the breeding pairs and monitor their nests and their cygnets. We all feel a sense of loss when we see one cygnet has gone missing, let alone all of them. Within a day of the Perch pair hatching eight eggs this year, one went missing.

This breeding season has obviously fallen in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, and the park has attracted so many more visitors.  The swans and their cygnets have become used to a number of photographers at any one time, bringing their youngsters onto the bank for food and attention. But this leaves them vulnerable, as people still do not put dogs on leads or children run to see them.  It is at this point that swans can show their more protective side and hiss and raise their wings. It is not only humans who are sent off; Canada geese, coots and ducks are all sent away, often by the cob, if they come within a wing length of the swan family. Their little downy, fluffy babies are well protected by their large parents.

By eight to 10 weeks old, if they have survived, the cygnets will have reached half their adult size and have their grey-brown plumage. At 13 to 17 weeks, those once tiny cygnets are ready to learn to fly, and by September they are practising their flight techniques with the help of mum and dad. In the park, you are often able to witness the whole family taking off and returning after a flying lesson.

In the next article, I hope to be able to show a chronicle of the new swans of Wanstead as those who survive grow up and become independent.

To report any concerns about the health and safety of a local swan, call 01932 240 790

Wanstead cares

510A9820-1-1©Dan Clarke

Dan Clarke has produced a photo book documenting Wanstead’s creative window displays

I’ve been amazed by the huge effort people have made to create window displays and wanted to document this in the form of a book. Just think how many smiles your bears or rainbows have brought to people who might not be having the best day.

I know so many children have enjoyed not only seeing the displays on their walks but making the displays themselves and being creative. They should be very proud of themselves for sharing happiness! I wanted to document this and the community spirit being generated throughout this time in Wanstead. I feel it’s important to record the positive aspects of this time we’re living through, and it will provide a nice memory for the children who have created displays.

The book is available to pre-order, with at least £5 from each sale going to the Wanstead Community Hub, which supports a number of foodbanks and initiatives as well as NHS frontline staff working on COVID-19 wards. The project provides fresh fruit, snacks and pamper bags to several big hospitals for use in their ‘wobble’ rooms, a safe space for staff to escape and have some essential downtime.

To get the money to the frontline workers as soon as possible, we are using a pre-order system, so you will receive your copy once printed, which should be mid-June when I have liaised with the printers and it can all be done safely. I would also like to find some local shops to stock the book, so please get in touch if you can help with that.

To order a copy of Wanstead Cares (£15), visit To contact Dan, email


1582715146_b657e350-b739-4957-a626-4a1fa5e54bf7©Kira Vos Photography

In the second of a series of articles by Refugee Welcome Wanstead – a community group planning to welcome a Syrian refugee family to Wanstead – Eleanor Taylor celebrates the group’s first milestone

The Refugee Welcome Wanstead project – which is made up of five churches: St Mary’s Woodford, Wanstead Parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, St Gabriel’s and St Peter’s-in-the-Forest – has achieved its first milestone, and raised the minimum funding needed to apply to welcome a Syrian refugee family to our community.

Covid-19 has presented us with some unforeseen hurdles, but we’re pleased to be able to let you know how we’re getting on, and to thank everyone who has supported us so far. The Covid-19 outbreak has had a real impact on our project. Plans for fundraising activities this summer have had to be shelved, making it harder to raise vital funds. Our volunteers have also found themselves juggling new working and home arrangements, and volunteering locally for the fight against the virus. However, the pandemic has also brought to life one of the reasons why our project is so important.

The danger posed by Covid-19 in refugee camps is dire. The majority of displaced people in the world already contend with underlying health conditions, malnutrition and poor sanitation, worsening the threat of the virus. Social distancing is impossible when access to necessities involves standing in queues for hours, and hand-washing is difficult when access to clean water and soap is severely limited. Access to medical treatment for those who do catch the virus is restricted, and for the most severely affected, the chances of being able to access adequate facilities are slim.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that we keep working to take a Syrian refugee family out of danger and welcome them into our community here in Wanstead. We’re currently working to finalise our formal application, to get the wheels in motion.

The Community Sponsorship Scheme can take up to six months to be processed by the Home Office. Our detailed application is submitted and checked, then the Home Office, along with the UNHCR, begin to identify a family whose needs we will be able to support. Although we don’t know what the long-term delays caused by Covid-19 will mean for our planned timetables, we’re getting on with submitting our application, so we can be ready whenever we are needed.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve already received from people in Wanstead and Woodford, and beyond; you’ve all been so generous with donations, encouragement and offers of help. Once we know more about when we can expect a family to join us, we will need lots more help and support, especially from people who have experienced the system or who have relevant language skills.

For more information, follow the group on Twitter @RefugeeWanstead or email

Funding available for groups helping those affected by the pandemic


Redbridge Council has unveiled a new scheme to provide funding to local groups who are helping those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Redbridge Social Action Fund will provide grants to support not-for-profit groups, including an initial funding pot of £10,000,” explained a spokesperson. Any not-for-profit organisation is eligible to make an application as long as their income in the last financial year did not exceed £100,000.

The first deadline is 5 June, and then fortnightly through to 31 July.



Farmers’ markets to return to Wanstead and South Woodford


Organisers of the monthly farmers’ markets in Wanstead and South Woodford are preparing to return in June.

“Our first event will be on Sunday 7 June on Wanstead High Street. We will be following a strict social distancing criteria for our traders and customers,” said a statement from Ace Events Ltd.

The South Woodford market – which takes place on George Lane – is scheduled for the third Sunday of the month (21 June).



Building history

The-Shrubbery-1940-bombingBombing of The Shrubbery in Grosvenor Road in September 1940

In the first of two articles, Dr Colin Runeckles discusses his findings following research into a Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council building survey carried out in 1949

While I was putting together my January talk on ‘Building Wanstead’, Sue Page at the Heritage Centre in Redbridge Central Library handed me an archive box and wondered whether I would be interested. Inside was a survey carried out after WWII about the condition of every building in the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council area. The area that I have so far input into a spreadsheet – nearly 5,500 entries – covers Wanstead and Snaresbrook.

The date of the survey appears to be late 1949. There are no building dates after 1949, and on the second from last page, there is a note to the effect that a Ministry of Labour camp on Wanstead Flats is “Now redundant at 27.10.49.” I haven’t managed to ascertain whether this survey was a local initiative or part of a national review. Although all buildings have an original or rebuilding date for those suffering excessive bomb damage, some of the older dates are dubious given other evidence, such as building plans or where they appear on old maps.

What does it tell us about the damage to buildings in WWII? There are 50 vacant plots listed due to buildings being destroyed by enemy action and relating to 43 houses, five shops and houses (49–57 High Street Wanstead), Park House on the corner of Blake Hall Road and Overton Drive that had been converted into flats shortly before the war, one block of The Shrubbery on Grosvenor Road, and the Isolation Hospital close to Wanstead Park. A further 103 buildings had already been fully repaired. Again, this mainly relates to houses, although it also includes one of the parts of Woodford House on the corner of Eagle Lane. Over 2,800 are shown as having “Substantial war damage repairs”, and when I eventually get to building plans of the post-war period, it will be interesting to make a comparison of the two sets of data. All of those fully rebuilt or showing vacant plots could be plotted on a map to show a more detailed picture of the significant areas of damage caused by enemy action in Wanstead. For example, 54 Hermon Hill is extremely close to houses destroyed in Sylvan Road (36–38 and 23–25) and almost certainly due to the same incident.

But there was some building carried out in this period – two canteens (presumably for workers in the underground tunnels) for Plessey’s were built around 1940 – one in the car park of The George, the other in Highstone Avenue. A building on the High Street shown on post-war maps just north of Clockhouse Parade is revealed in the survey to be a British Restaurant (communal kitchens set up by the Ministry of Food).

Next month’s article will look at what the survey can tell us about post-war building developments.

For more information on the Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre, visit

Floating ideas

93507320-1BB2-4BDC-ACE8-44A61219B734©Geoff Wilkinson

Rising at Molehill Green in Essex, the River Roding passes through the Wanstead and Woodford area en route to the Thames, bringing with it a very real flood risk to local homes. In the ninth of a series of articles, Laura Hepworth from the Environment Agency reports on the River Roding Project, which aims to reduce that risk

The River Roding has a long history of flooding causing devastating and widespread impacts to north-east London. With the impact of climate change, flooding is predicted to happen more frequently unless we act now. This project will reduce flooding to over 2,000 homes by 2080 and improve the resilience of businesses and infrastructure to flooding incidents in the Woodford and Ilford area.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continuing to deliver our flood risk management projects where it is safe for our teams and delivery partners to do so. The safety of our staff, partners and the communities we work in remains a priority for us. This includes undergoing critical activities to operate, maintain and develop key flood assets and respond during flooding events. In these difficult times, we will ensure that any work done will be within Public Health England’s guidelines.

A great way to prepare for flooding is to create a personal flood plan, allowing you to have useful information ready to use in an emergency. This includes taking measures such as:

  • Preparing a bag of essential items to take with you if you have to leave your home, including medication, warm and waterproof clothing, phone chargers and important documents like passports, insurance documents and contact numbers. Keep this in a safe place!
  • Creating a checklist of things to do to protect your family, such as turning off the electricity and gas to prevent a fire.
  • Consider moving sentimental items upstairs.
  • Check your building and contents insurance policy covers flooding.
  • Look at the best way of stopping floodwater entering your property and how to use appropriate property protection products, such as flood barriers or air brick covers. A directory of these products is available from the National Flood Forum (
  • Make sure you understand the flood warning codes.

You could also create a community flood plan to coordinate responses and to decide what practical action to take to support each other before, during and after a flood. Plans like these are great in helping the community get back on its feet after a flooding incident.

If your property is at risk, you can sign up to get free flood warnings by phone, email or text message. This is beneficial as you will have time to prepare in case of a flooding incident and be able to warn your neighbours to help better protect your local community.

We are always looking for local residents to be our eyes on the ground, checking and reporting on river levels and providing photographic evidence. If you are interested in getting involved, please get in touch.

To find out if your property is a flood risk, visit

To register for flood warnings, visit

To check the River Roding webcam, visit

For more information on the River Roding Project, visit or call 0370 850 6506