Angie Gough talks to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park’s inspirational #Artskicker

“An oasis in an urban jungle” is how Roland, dedicated volunteer at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, describes the place he chooses to spend two mornings of every week.

He’s one of 3,000 volunteers who spend time weeding, planting and pruning at the park each year.

That kind of dedication requires bucketloads of inspiration and plenty of tender loving care, ingredients that the winner of the #Artskickers Community Superhero Award provides in spades (check out those PUNS!)

Ken Greenway is one of three full-time employees of Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Since 2005 Ken, Dan and Sarah have created a community resource that is a magnet for locals of all ages, a unique event space and park like no other in East London.

Secreted behind Mile End Tube station, the 31-acre nature reserve is a peaceful haven of birds, plants, art, woodland… and the remains of over 350,000 East Londoners.

Strolling through the grounds with Ken, we bump into joggers, dogwalkers and a young dad who remembers walking in the park with his brothers as a six-year-old. “It was a lot different then, we used to run through it to get to my nan’s house,” he said.

“It wasn’t spooky, but we didn’t waste time getting through it.”

Now, he and his partner come twice a day to walk their dog and toddler, and it’s clear they absolutely love the place.

On a bug hunt

Conscious of how most people in the area live in cramped accommodation, sometimes several generations to one flat, Ken and the team work hard to make sure Tower Hamlets’ diverse group of locals feel welcome and that they have a sense of ownership.
“People come to the Cemetery Park for peace, to spend time in a green and wild space, to get personal space,” Ken said.

“Young people use it as a place to do the things they’re not really allowed to do at home…”

All this is just as the Friends intend it – visitors are welcome to use the Cemetery Park for whatever purpose they need, just so long as they put their rubbish in the bin afterwards.

Also part of the park is a stretch of land adjoining the railway arches on Ackroyd Drive, once a derelict wasteland, where flytipping and prostitution were more the norm than birds, butterflies and bees.

Street artist Louis Masai

Street artist Louis Masai at work

Ken reached out to streetartist Louis Masai, who worked with the Friends to create a destination for streetart lovers and verdant community space.

Thanks to the introduction of colourful art on the railings, the bins and the walls, a space that used to need a daily clean up now requires just a weekly visit to change the bins.

Ken is a man who knows the power of art to build bridges and generate community pride.

His passion for Tower Hamlets – not only the Cemetery Park but the people it belongs to – shines through and has propelled him and his team to create a very special kind of park in the heart of this community.

Go see for yourself – it’s just a 20-minute cycle down the canal from London Fields or a four- minute walk from Mile End Tube station.

Swoosh!
Angie x

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VISIT
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Mile End, London, E3 4PX

EVENTS
Half Term – Forest School: kids age 6-14 can learn bush craft skills, whittling, fire-lighting and cooking on fires, bug hunting and bird-watching.

1 July – Summer fair: Ride a penny farthing or take a drive through the woods in a real steam engine (FREE).

26 & 27 August – Shuffle Festival returns for a third year of food, music, science, art and culture. Get your tickets at  shufflefestival.com

Full programme of education, guided walks and other events at fothcp.org

VOLUNTEER
Corporate groups and individual volunteers are very welcome at the park. Details at fothcp.org