(Cover image from theislingtoncompany.co.uk)
Many people walking around the cobbled streets of Islington surrounded by buildings and traffic find it hard to connect the term “green borough” with “Islington”.
Aaron Casanova, studying at City University London, lives in the area and agrees with the idea that the borough lacks green spaces: “Around Angel Tube Station, there’s not really that many green areas. I suppose you have to go more in central London to have parks, but here it’s just businesses and shops.”
Some are more neutral, as Owen Chan, 21, studying at the University of Law and living in Islington, says: “It’s actually quite reasonable I think. There are a few green spaces close to Goswell Road.”
Yet, in September 2015 Islington won Gold in the London in Bloom, which rewards London’s boroughs, communities, businesses and individuals for their efforts in making the area greener and a better place to live. This means Islington is the greenest area in London both for its green spaces and its sustainability in different categories. The group Islington Gardeners represented the borough of Islington at the competition, and put all its efforts into making it greener, more beautiful and more sustainable, ready for the judges.
It all started with the first step: Islington in Bloom, for which everyone in the area, even children, could participate by putting flowers in their schools, workplaces or homes. Then, it spread to a wider scale; London in Bloom.
“We have to cover different things; its community, keeping things clean, its parks, estates, private residences… You have to meet a lot of criteria – it’s a very long list. It’s the community that makes the difference,” said Sarah Warland, the Contracts and Performance Officer for Greenspace and Leisure, working with the Council and Islington Gardeners.
Contrary to general belief, Islington is full of green spaces. The Council states that excluding nature reserves: “Islington Greenspace manages 154 parks and open spaces and 333 housing estates”. Gillespie Park was considered one of the greenest parks in Islington at London in Bloom, and some other places like Arlington Square and Islington Green War Memorial have also been refurbished and commended in the competition, participating in the success of the whole borough.
Colin Forde works as an independent gardener in the borough, and agrees that gardening has several positive aspects on the area: “Maintaining tidy green spaces in and around Islington not only promotes a diversity of wildlife but also provides a positive window in which the residents and visitors to Islington can peek through, past the grey concrete, and enjoy.”
The aim of Islington Gardeners, working alongside Islington Council, is to support gardening events. Some of them are gardening competitions which actually motivate people to work on their gardens and to make Islington a more colourful place to live in. Without any funding to help them, making Islington the winning borough was especially the work of the whole community.
Making residents’ lives better, and giving a good image of the borough to visitors, is why even little spaces not necessarily created to welcome flowers and plants become flowery. The “Forgotten Corners” are small public areas like road verges flowered by local residents to make their street more welcoming. Paul Thompson, in charge of the Forgotten Corners at Islington Gardeners, said:
“There are probably around 10 and 20 forgotten corners in Islington that I am aware of, some of them we are involved with, but many are not connected with us at the moment.”
The idea is to gather an even bigger community: “I try to encourage people who do Forgotten Corners to come to us,” he added. “We help them to find whether the land can be gardened, who they have to ask for permission, if they need funding or if they are happy to do it by themselves. If we can get some plants for free, we do that too.” Some corners are located on City Road, or even in St Melitus Church Gardens. Around tree pits, against walls: all kinds of space can be improved.
Gardening can be done either individually or by a community and, in any case, those involved in it definitely agree that having a garden can improve your quality of life. For Colin Forde, it is to do with relaxation: “Looking at a tidy garden I am sure would make you feel a lot less stressful. Giving you time to relax and enjoy your surroundings has to be a positive aspect.”
Jennifer Chamberlain, the chairwoman of Islington Gardeners, thinks that gardens make you more healthy and happy: “I think living in a green area is vitally important. Anybody who doesn’t have access to any sort of green space is very deprived in my opinion.”
It is all about making life and environment better, making the borough more beautiful, but also creating friendships between people, improving health and the quality of life. “I’ve been planting tree pits in my garden, and immediately people stop and talk to you, they love having street trees in the area… I just think that anything which can reduce the pollution in any borough through planting is vital to our health and well-being,” said Chamberlain.
Living in a green borough is a pleasure for the eyes, and for life in general. And with the seasons changing, green areas are turning yellow, red and orange, but already preparing to start a new life next spring.
If you wish to visit any of Islington’s green areas, then here is my round up of the best:
St John’s Gardens, Northampton Square, the façade of the Hemingford Arms, Paradise Park, Olden Community Gardens, New Orleans Estate, Gillepsie Park, Finsbury Square, Culpeper Community Garden, and Arlington Square.