Spotlight on… The Ecology Centre

Man walking with a woman in a hijab pushing a pram in Gillespie Park

Conservation officer Jo Corrall on how Islington’s smallest nature reserve is helping children connect with the natural world

What does your role involve?

My role is split between managing people who want to hire the Ecology Centre and day-to-day upkeep. It’s based in Gillespie Park and the bit I really love is encouraging communities who aren’t currently using the park to make the most of this great space. For example, we’ve been working with women’s network Jannaty on some Islam and nature walks, and really trying to connect with the Muslim community.

What do you offer families?

The Garden Classroom runs school lessons here every week. They go out into the park and do things like orienteering or learn about plant life cycles and pond life – whatever fits with the school’s curriculum. It’s much more exciting for children to go and see a frog, for example, than learn about it in a classroom!

During school holidays we put on free activities, such as pond dipping, meadow sweeping or crafts. We also have our annual intergenerational event, which we run with Age UK, Bright Start and Bright Futures. Older and younger people come together to do sing-alongs, activities and crafts. At Christmas, we sang carols round a fire basket in the snow, it was just wonderful!

Why is it such a valuable space?

In Islington, there isn’t much green space. The parks are lovely, but they’re big flat grassy areas. We’re a nature reserve, so we have lots of different habitats: a meadow, woodland and a pond. It gives kids a chance to really experience nature in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s such a calm, quiet space, where you can come and feel enclosed in nature in a way you just don’t anywhere else. It’s all the more important at the moment, with the cost of living crisis: we’re a free space you can come and enjoy spending time in.

What are the benefits for children?

Some of it is just about exploring and looking at things they haven’t necessarily seen before. Learning how food is grown and how things survive is also really important, especially for city kids – it’s good for them to understand our connection with nature and how it relates to things like climate change. You’re more likely to want to protect something you connect with. Being in nature also has such a positive effect on mental health. It’s naturally calming. It’s so important.

To find out more about the Ecology Centre and what’s on, call on 020 7527 4374 or visit the parks page of the Islington Council website.

Read more about other children’s and youth services in Islington in other blogs in our Spotlight on series

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