Marnie Rose, Director of Strategy & New Programmes of The Garden Classroom, and Julie Parish and Anita Gracie of Octopus Network, informed Members of the work carried out by their organisations, its challenges and future plans.
During discussion the following main points were made.
Julie Parish informed the meeting that Octopus
Network, a small charity, initially carried out most of its
activities in community centres, offering and hosting a range of
services and events. Over the years, however, it has expanded into
the use of open spaces and parks. Julie Parish welcomed the support
provided by the Parks Department.
The meeting was informed that Octopus Network had
received more than £900,000 external funding over a number of
years, which enables it carry out a range of activities across the
borough. It supports residents in designing gardens and open
spaces, growing food to eat and running workshops in community
centres for residents. One of the notable and successful activities
is the Environmental Summer Schools, which are run in partnership
with Islington Green Space for Children, from ages 5-11, and their
The “Trail Blazer”, which is run in
partnership with Islington Community Hubs Network, aims to create
unique living/learning spaces that provide new outdoor learning
environments for local communities to develop, design learning
activities, manage and enjoy.
In response to a question about promoting
“Urban Wild Places” in parks, the meeting was advised
that, with the support of Islington Parks, Octopus would endeavour
to establish an area within the park where wildlife could thrive,
so that young children could visit, observe and learn about bees,
butterflies, frogs, etc.
The Garden Classroom (TGC) comprises volunteers who
help deliver high-quality hands-on sessions in green spaces across
Islington. TGC works with individuals who have an understanding of
outdoor life and have a passion for nature and the
TGC works in partnership with Islington Council, and
other councils, community gardens, schools and businesses, to bring
real benefits to the community, which it believes will boost staff
morale, and engage client or customer bases. Members were advised
that TGC works with schools to deliver its curriculum through
outdoor learning in parks and gardens.
The meeting was informed that more than 62,000
children had been engaged in various outdoor activities over the
years, which accounts for 28.5% of what TGC provides. Since there
is a recognition that city dwellers experiencing myriad challenges,
such as overdevelopment, pollution and insufficient open spaces,
are missing out on outdoor activities, TGC also engages with
disadvantaged children and visits schools.
Although TGC works with other departments, it
currently has a positive working relationship with Public Realm: it
helps to deliver more than 200 hours of activities in the
Ecological Centre, instead of the 60-70 hours agreed in the
Challenges include lack of shelter and toilet
facilities for schoolchildren in the park. Anti-social behaviour
and dog fouling is an issue in some of the parks, there is a
noticeable decrease in such activities particularly after community
engagement in the space.
With regard to community engagement of residents on
housing estates, the meeting was informed that Urban Wild Places
had been able to organise workshops on both the Harvist and Bemerton
Estates. Residents had been encouraged to grow their own vegetables
and set up garden clubs. The meeting was also informed of the
particular success of planting activities on the Andover Estate,
but that the commencement of the new-build programmes had resulted
in activities being suspended.
TGC and Octopus agreed that a Biodiversity Action
Plan, together with a budget, would be welcomed and would help to
deliver and promote diversity in the borough. In addition, it would
be beneficial when funding was sought. In response, the Head of
Green Space and Leisure Spaces acknowledged that, although none
currently exists, a concise briefing paper that would focus on
habitat was currently being drafted.
Meeting was advised that the Council’s Nature
Conservation Team continues to ensure that Islington has integrated
parks. Members were reminded that a balance needs to be struck
between residents who prefer well-manicured parks and those who
want wild life to be promoted.
TGC and Octopus Network continue to welcome the
support and recognition of ward councillors since this gives small
charities credibility with external funders when applying for
On the criteria for identifying which housing
estates to work with, members were informed that organisations work
with Community Development Officers and the Housing Communities
team to identify where to run activities. The level of support
varies from estate to estate because some already have garden clubs
in place whereas others look for assistance in setting them
On the question of longevity and sustainability,
both TGC and Octopus acknowledged the future challenges: since
their existence as small charities relies on external funding,
their model was based on being facilitators.
No financial support is provided to community
centres or any of their activities, but support would include
providing advice about the design of gardens, or planting of seeds
to grow food. Members were informed that the essence of any support
is to ensure that it provides a living space for its residents to
go on and develop their space. In addition, it provides an
environment in which skills are cascaded and enables residents to
identify areas of interest.
Cllr Champion informed the meeting that the
Committee would like to enquire further on how the third-party
sector engages with hard-to-reach groups, and how it could
communicate its projects with these groups at a future
In response, both TGC and Octopus Network representatives welcomed a visit by the Committee to observe their projects.
The Chair thanked Marnie Rose, Director of Strategy & New Programmes of The Garden Classroom, and Julie Parish and Anita Gracie of Octopus Network, for sharing their experiences with the committee.