One of the questions Mark wrestles with on an ongoing basis where the boundary lies between what Camden Council does and the work of FoFG’s volunteers and local residents. Over the past 7 years, he and the FoFG committee have worked with Camden and a variety of parks’ contractors, initially to replant, and subsequently to maintain, the Green. Budgets have been cut, contractors and council staff has changed many times, so it’s an ongoing task building relationships and negotiating funding. Mark believes that it’s fine that there should be partnership between FoFG and the council (as indeed does Camden), but it’s the shifting boundaries and personnel that can be challenging.
‘We don’t expect Camden to shower Fortune Green with money and works: it’s a good thing that a council should be an enabler of local projects, not simply a provider. For one thing, we (the committee and local residents) know what we want for the Green better than the council does - planting, maintenance, events - and what’s more we have the skills to do most of it. And it’s rewarding to get stuck in and make those things happen. What’s almost more challenging is making sure that things don’t fall through the cracks between what’s Camden’s responsibility and what is ours. Budgets are cut and we find that elements that the council used to be responsible for now fall to us to finance and implement. But that’s the way it will be, given the current funding situation – even when money wasn’t so tight this was still an issue - because Parks are only a non-statutory obligation for the council.’
‘When I was in the US, I saw how different things are over there. The system is based on ‘small government’ plus a high degree of local involvement, which is both expected and achieved.’ And people do give massively, their time and their money.
‘I talked to two of the guys behind the High Line in New York. There had been plans to renovate the old system of freight train lines in the city twice before, but it was when they were finally up for demolition that the idea of turning them into a public park really got off the ground (if you’ll pardon the pun). It has been a massive project, geographically and financially, so it’s a long way from the Fortune Green improvements of course, but it demonstrates the power of philanthropy and voluntary engagement in the US. The top three donors contributed a combined total of $50M to get the High Line project up and running. It is now maintained by teams of designers, professional horticulturalists and volunteers from all over the city. It wasn’t all private enterprise though: there was a big involvement from the city, both in the funding and the maintenance, and that on-going maintenance is a challenge.’
As well as seeing first hand how donorship can work in the US, Mark was also inspired by the energy and drive of individuals who set up projects that tap into the wants of the wider community. This core enthusiasm is key to the success of all these projects, and that’s certainly the case for Fortune Green too.
‘In Boston, two college rowers started running training sessions, initially so that they were motivated to continue training through the cold winter months, but subsequently opened them up to other people who just wanted to keep fit. This was the November Project, and on its third anniversary, it attracted 300+ people for the 6.30am class – I was one of them – there were even 150 for 5.30am class! The November Project has now been duplicated in lots of other cities across the US. That’s inspirational.’
‘In the London area, one of the projects that I really admire (which is closer to Fortune Green in scale) is King Henry’s Walk Garden in Islington. It’s a small open community space, with 50 or so small allotment-type plots, where people grow their own crops and share expertise. They pay a small fee for their plot and are encouraged to do some communal work on the land in addition to working their own patch. And it works really well. There are also educational workshops and talks on things like food preserving – the WI meets Hackney!’
So how’s the project that is Fortune Green going, and what are the plans for the future?
‘Fortune Green is doing ok. We’re in the lucky position that the major planting and renovating has now been completed, so now the focus is on maintaining. The volunteers who come to the LOGS are doing a great job, and we have plans for some ‘mini LOGS’ in the next few months, to focus on specific jobs, which will keep things ticking over. But more volunteers are always welcome! In financial terms, the Green isn’t a heritage area, which would receive more Lottery funding, or an opportunity area (somewhat deprived), which would also attract funding. We’re in between. But we manage. We are very lucky to have private sponsorship, from Manuel Swaden for the LOGS, Benham & Reeves, Abacus and Bombay Nights for the films, plus Alexanders and David’s Deli for Love Parks Week. We’re setting up business memberships in the locality, and we’ll fundraise and apply for charitable funding where we can.’
With the enthusiasm and dedication of Mark, the committee members and volunteers, it looks as if we have a good basis on which to build a rosy present and future for Fortune Green.
- Catherine Allison