Islington together: Monica

  • 04
  • Dec

In a series of interviews, we capture the diverse experiences of the people of Islington and how together, we’re tackling inequality at the root. This time: Monica, a Bemerton Estate resident who worked with her neighbours to transform a corner of Cally from unloved patch of earth to a wildflower meadow

Images: Monica Wells

Like many of us during lockdown, Bemerton Estate resident Monica wanted to make the most of the green space on her doorstep. She and a neighbour decided to do some planting, to brighten up the area, but didn’t know where to start or how they would pay for it – which is when they came across the We Are Cally Residents Grant Scheme. They applied for the grant and were successful, giving them £500 to invest in transforming the estate’s outdoor areas.

“Bemerton Corner was a patch of land so unloved, you wouldn’t notice it was there – but it’s not small! It had a lot of building waste on it, which had been left there a couple of years ago. We used the stones to make a border, got rid of all the waste and dug up all the weeds.

A lot of us on this estate live in flats and don’t have gardens – or know how to garden. We didn’t have any gardening equipment, either, so I got some advice from other plots in Barnsbury. We managed to buy some tools from the Thornhill Square Garden and they lent us some too, as did Thornhill Road Gardens. Three very different neighbourhoods, which are very close to each other, worked together. People were very willing to help and open up their gardening tool sheds.

However, we didn’t have enough labour, so we started just asking people on the street. One lady who lives on the estate, Mandy, was walking home from doing her shopping when she noticed us at work. She gave us some rubber gloves, then came to help. Later her next door neighbour Thomas came and said, ‘This is how you do it’ and shovelled half of the waste out within an hour. He’s a machine! In all we ended up with more than 30 volunteers, mostly people who live in the area and had seen what we were doing. Everyone helped. One man gave access to his flat – he’s lived on the estate since it was built in the 1970s or 1980s and he knew everyone. He made us cups of tea.

The biggest challenge we had was getting water to soak the turf. Then, like an angel, a council maintenance person called Stacy drove past and asked what we were doing. He loves rewilding and went into great detail as to why wild meadows are so great for the butterflies and bees. We explained we had this problem of how to water it. Stacy got his colleague to come down with a van with 1,000 litres of water, which saved the whole thing. He’s a very can-do person – he clearly went out of his way that day and made it happen. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know whether it would have survived.

The main thing is, it’ll look lovely. There’s a children’s library on the corner and two primary schools. Children will walk past it every day and it’s nice for them to have something interesting and colourful to look at. It’s better for pollinators and wildlife generally, too.

Over lockdown it’s become clear people are seeking out a connection to nature. We need to be thinking, how can we make the most of these small spaces? We’ve got to look after our cities.”

The We Are Cally Residents Grant scheme is part of the We Are Cally Community Fund. The fund will allow voluntary sector organisations, council services and resident groups to test ideas that respond to local needs and make a positive change in the area. Visit the Council website to find out more about the grant and to apply.

Find out more about how Islington Council is working with its partners and local people to make the borough a more equal place.

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