It’s not the most promising location: an acre of Council-owned ground in the hinterland of Elphinstone Road surrounded by housing and largely concreted over around 13 years ago following the removal of some dilapidated garages. The Council had leased the land to neighbourhood environmental charity group Better Braybrooke at a peppercorn rent and provided funds to them to engage an architect, erect walls and fencing, and establish some planting beds. However the local community failed to use it other than as an increasingly wild, graffiti-strewn rubbish tip.

Three years ago a group of local residents set out to revive the area as a community park. Some financial support was obtained from a police fund (diversion of confiscated “ill- gotten gains”, apparently); local college students offered art services and built an oak gazebo; local branches of Asda and One Stop have also contributed funding. The space has been transformed, mostly by volunteer workers, into a vibrant urban garden with an emphasis on children’s outdoor play and education: plant beds are festooned with greenery, walls decorated with colourful murals, the spaces between marked out for play areas and other community activities.

The park received a Level 5 award as “outstanding” under the category “It’s my Neighbourhood” from horticultural campaign group South East in Bloom after a visit from their judges in the summer. It is not open all hours – there remains a problem of random vandalism: tables have been smashed, a Wendy house broken into, the advantage of being tucked away also renders it vulnerable to misuse – but the keyholders have been trying to maximise community use on a daily and weekly basis in spring, summer and autumn. A “knit and natter” group were meeting most Monday mornings; Wednesdays the space hosted a drama group; Thursdays there were both pre-school and after-school garden clubs; Mallydams (the wildlife establishment in Fairlight) organised pre-school events on some Friday afternoons. And every Saturday morning, subject to adverse weather, the garden was open to everyone.

Four community events have been hosted annually. A series of summer “picnic and play” parties attracting around 100 visitors each time (adults and children) was funded this year by the local health authority, the Hastings and Rother CCG, as a “healthy living” project. The most recent event, an Autumn Fun day on 8 October, offered various garden arts, crafts and sensory experiences such as pumpkin carving, “ fairy spell potions”, and making apple bird feeders.

It is hoped that more volunteers will offer their services next year, both for physical maintenance of the park and to devise and run a wider range of community activities.

Meanwhile two of the park’s revivers, Martin Styring and lead gardener Suz Horgan, who trained in horticulture at the RHS but supplies her time and energies to the park on a purely voluntary basis, have a fresh project. Having founded a community interest company, In Spades, and enlisted the aid of Hastings Voluntary Action and local neighbourhood pressure group Better Braybrooke (“very supportive and offering no end of help”, says Suz), they are reclaiming derelict land behind Ore Station that belongs to Orbit Homes housing association. This should become another pocket park, of similar size to Hughenden Road but bearing more ambitious intentions – further report to follow.

pic: Suz Horgan

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