Once dilapidated park flourishing thanks to community group (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Friends of Elmhurst Gardens continue to flourish in South Woodford
A teenager’s frustration at the state of her local park led to the formation of a community group which has helped transform the area.
The Friends of Elmhurst Gardens was set up in 2007 by Claire Marriott after her daughter Jodie decided to write a letter to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair about the dilapidated open space in Fosters Close, South Woodford.
Miss Marriott, 43, of Diana Close, which borders Elmhurst Gardens, said: “It wasn’t a very welcoming environment back then.
“It was actually very intimidating going in, because the park was covered in graffiti with people hanging around drinking and glass all over the place.
“My neighbour was broken into and there were always kids throwing stones at people’s windows.
“My daughter Jodie was 13 at the time and she just said one day ‘I wish someone would do something about this’
“I told her to write a letter to the council and thought nothing more of it.”
But Jodie did write a letter, more than one in fact. And she took photos of the state of the park and, unknown to Miss Marriott collected around 60 signatures on a petition calling on the council to take action.
She sent her letters and photos to Downing Street, local councillor Ian Bond and Redbridge Council.
While the Prime Minister never came back to the teenager, the council did agree to hold a meeting to discuss concerns over the park.
Miss Marriott said: “I thought if Jodie has gone to all this effort the least I can do is organise some support, and that’s where it all started.”
Dozens of local people attended the meeting at which the Friends of Elmhurst Gardens was set up with Miss Marriott as chairwoman.
Working alongside the council’s parks and conservation department they have helped transform the space.
It now boasts green flag status and has been completely refurbished with new benches, picnic tables an improved playground and flowerbeds.
The Friends of Elmhurst Gardens, which is self-funded, runs planting sessions with local schools and organises regular community events in the park.
Park keeper Bill Frost said: “They are the backbone of this place and I think they are brilliant.
“When there is planting to be done they are there, they organise events to promote the place and encourage people to treasure the park.
"People respect the place and we have no problems with vandalism or anything like that now.”
The Friends are always looking for more volunteers to help with events and planting. To find out how you can help email firstname.lastname@example.org
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