It is late in the afternoon when I sit down for a chat with Joan, one of the founders of The Hub Community Centre in the heart of Lordship Recreation Ground – informally known as ‘the Rec’. Being November, it’s already dark. However, even though the park is empty, there are still a few bodies sheltering in the oasis of light and warmth, enjoying a hot chocolate or cheese toastie in The Hub’s café.
Joan is one of a group of local residents who saw through the neglect and rusty old trolleys that plagued the park during my childhood visits in the 1980s, and realised that Lordship Rec had real potential.
“When I first came here I had a little boy, and we were the only ones in here,” explains Joan. Yet after a lot of hard work, Joan and the group – who call themselves The Friends of Lordship Rec – have transformed the park into something closer to a nature reserve than a city centre park. Most days it is full of people, even in the darkest and coldest months of the year.
The Friends formed in 2001 and were inspired by the success of the regeneration of neighbouring Broadwater Farm in the 1990s. They aimed to develop a community-led vision to regenerate the park and started by asking the local community: ‘What do you want from our park?’
One of the first projects was the regeneration of the pond, which is home to a variety of wild fowl and other birds throughout the year. It was clogged and untidy but because the council was starved of resources, The Friends decided to go ahead and get the the improvements done themselves – an ethos that continues today, almost 15 years later.
Joan says, “We always stayed in control of our own organisation. It wasn’t like the council thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a friends group and let’s set one up.’ I think that’s why it has been so successful, because we’ve always had the idea that it was going to be for the people, by the people and we were going to maintain our independence.”
The Friends work in productive partnership with the council on a monthly basis as part of the Lordship Rec Users Forum, and over the years a good rapport has been built up. But Joan is keen to keep it within the community’s hands. “We don’t want to become bureaucratic and institutionalised,” she warns. This protectiveness is perhaps the reason why the café has such a welcoming and homely feel.
By 2005, The Friends were campaigning and fundraising, putting on huge festivals that attracted thousands of people. Eventually they caught the eye of The Heritage Lottery Fund that gave a whopping £4.1 million to the park and the Council raised other funds too. This meant that huge changes could happen, and natural or historical features such as the Moselle River and the Model Traffic Area had a chance to be renovated.
The Moselle, previously hiding in a silted ditch between a bank of trees and in a culvert under the path, was diverted into a new channel that has created an extravagant haven for wild plants and birds. It’s a drastic change from the plain and uninspiring park I remember.
Another addition to the park has been the very building we are sat talking in. Designed by a group of female architects, The Hub upholds the general environmental ethos of The Friends. It was built from natural materials such as straw bales and natural clay a rare but welcome sight in the middle of a London suburb.
Initially, The Friends were only interested in a single room in the community centre for park groups to use for meetings and events. However, when the council’s preferred tender was a pleasant but private entrepreneur, the Friends feared that the community ethos may get lost in the drive for profit.
“It was designed to be a community building, so we didn’t really want to be in a position where the community took second place to the priorities of profitability,” Joan explains.
A decision had to be made. Joan and fellow Lordship Rec Friend Glynis (now community manager at the Hub) had a conversation one day while working in Harmony Gardens, a community garden set up in the Broadwater Farm Estate. They came to the decision ‘We can do that!’
A 100-page business plan was presented to the council, and after some deliberation they finally gave The Hub to The Friends.
Now open for more than a year, The Hub is a central point for many local people who visit the park. Its eco-building style blends in perfectly with the surrounding greenery and is an oasis within an oasis.
Local resident Christian, aged 13, says that he often comes to the café simply for a glass of water after using the BMX track. He says it’s like a little home and saves him trekking back to his real home whenever he’s thirsty.
Anne, another local resident, says that she has made lots of friends at The Hub and uses the local activities a lot with her one year old son. She says “I like that it’s community-led and run by volunteers. The café is really good. If you come here regularly you get to know [the staff] and meet them, and it’s just got a homely community feel about it.”
Joan says her favourite thing about The Hub is that “It’s all the people that are here, and the fact that people get it and don’t complain because we’re a bit rough and ready. Everyone’s really nice, and I’ve met such great people, and the kids are lovely.”
The Hub’s community feeling permeates every inch of the place and already it’s a well-loved spot. The potential for this home from home is limitless as long as local people take ownership of this precious space and keep the local community spirit alive.