L&Q resident starts community garden for local park

Published on 05/04/2022

A beloved, community-built park that provides a vital ‘green lung’ to South London residents is still growing twenty years on.

Located between Camberwell, Brixton and Herne Hill, Milkwood Park community garden is giving residents even more choice to pursue and enjoy outdoor activities.

Created for the community, by the community, the gardens are promoting a hands-on, healthy eating approach, offering local people a place to grow vegetables and herbs.

The sudden flourish of greenery at the end of Milkwood Road looks organic but it’s not – this is the work of the Milkwood Residents’ Association (MRA) and its founder, L&Q resident, Maude Estwick.

When Grandmother-of-six, Maude, and her family moved into her Poplar Road home in 1984, she noticed how devoid of green the area was.

Uniting a group of concerned neighbours, Maude decided that something positive should be done to transform her neighbourhood’s derelict space.

Working with L&Q, the MRA applied for grants and were awarded over £500k from twenty organisations, including the leading housing association.

“The need for green spaces is what drove the project, as well as the coming together and the positivity of working on a shared project in the outdoors,” said Maude, 73, who is married with four children.

Two decades later and Maude’s small spark of an idea has bloomed into a vital community asset. Opened at a ceremony attended by Prince Charles in 2002, the little pocket of greenery is now one of Lambeth’s award-winning Green Flag parks. The first in the area to secure this coveted award, it has successfully competed to win again every year alongside more and more parks in Lambeth. 

Open space was the starting point for Milkwood Park, but also the foundation for other facilities, including a playground, multiuse games court, outdoor gym and areas for shelter, play and wildlife.

From its early stages to the present day, children and young people have always been at the heart of the park.

“There was lots of vandalism in the area. You’d walk around and see needles on the floor and burnt up cars on the side of the road. With nowhere for kids to play, we wanted to provide a place and purpose for them away from the streets”, said Maude.

“Initially, we just wanted to clean up the space and add a football pitch, but the National Lottery Fund encouraged us to go further and work with local schools.

We spoke to year six students and asked them to get involved. All of them took good care of the park once it opened and then once they grew up and had kids, they brought them back here”, Maude continued.

Set up with the ethos that nature can nurture, the MRA take their role as guardians of this unique space very seriously. The grassroots group has been working to expand the park’s offer and recently received funding for a community gardening project.

Maude said: “The gardens will soon be flourishing with freshly grown lettuce, beets, carrots and kale, to help feed the families in the community and raise awareness about healthy eating.”

Maude was voted the best neighbour in the country in the National Housing Federation’s Neighbourhood Awards 2007.

“I do not know why I won the award – I just do things with my heart,” she said.

After leading the MRA for over twenty years, Maude retired in 2012. She remains involved in the park’s development through Friends of Milkwood Community Park, a new organisation which she set up and currently chairs. She regularly visits the park with her family to enjoy the fruits of her labour.

“It’s not easy work, but I love it. To this day, my grandson always asks: “can we go to grandma’s park?” said Maude.

Sophie Leedham, Head of Resident Involvement at L&Q, said:

“82% of the English population live in urban areas, with little breathing space to embrace nature. Community gardens offer an effective solution to this, whilst also tackling climate change, improving air quality and stemming the collapse of biodiversity.

“Maude’s actions, and those of the MRA, have created a powerful expression of community, at a time when shared green spaces are scarce.

“Milkwood Park reveals what is possible when residents and social landlords work together, laying out a blueprint for like-minded citizens to follow.”