An initiative to encourage local community engagement with nature has been launched in Tower Hamlets.
The event, Neighbourhood Nature, consists of six Sunday walks in Shandy Park in Mile End and Swedenborg Gardens in Whitechapel.
The walks are open to people of all ages and backgrounds as long they live in Shadwell, Wapping, Whitechapel or Aldgate East.
Michelle Lindson, Community Development Coordinator, told ELL: “These walks that we’re doing are like nature walks in an area where people feel there is no nature, as it is very little compared to other areas in London.”
Walks consist of looking at street trees, the lighting on moss and bricks, admiring plants growing in shared gardens and watching birds flying overhead.
The walks, organised by Nature and Us, a scheme run by The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (FoTHCP), attempt to bring Tower Hamlets residents together through nature.
Nature and Us have been running since June 2018, but FoTHCP has struggled to attract Shadwell residents.
The project is attempting to gain more involvement from people beyond the cemetery park where their office is based but it hasn’t been a success. Lindson explained that she felt the struggle for attendance was because people are “apprehensive”.
“We’re working in an area where there is a lot of anti-social behaviour and not a lot of nature that people can obviously see.”
“Trying to get people from different ethnicity and backgrounds to the same events is very difficult,” Lindson added.
“I thought the foraging tour would appeal more to maybe the Bangladeshi community, but they don’t seem too keen on eating something that’s been from the park.”
However, events that involve “looking and talking about something that looks pretty” draws in “white British or European participants.”
FoTHCP would need to reduce the opportunities they provide outside of the cemetery park and add a charge if turnout does not improve. But this would be “really bad because that is such a huge barrier for people”.
Lindson is currently working with a children’s centre near Swedenborg Gardens, allowing younger people to be involved but has found this “challenging”.
“There’s a lot of worry about children getting cold and I think it’s out of their comfort zone, not just about getting things to eat from the park but thoughts such as ‘why go out and look at a tree’ and ‘it’s a bit cold outside, they’ll get sick’. So, I think I’m just trying to take it slowly, it takes a lot of time.”
Although the event is free, less than five people attended the first two Sunday walks, with only three present last week. But, they are hopeful that more people will be involved in the remaining three Sunday walks.
However, the group runs other events in the Mile End area, such as a wildflower growing course at Stepney City Farm. She said: “That’s full to the brim; we’re fully booked and have like sixteen people!”
FoTHCP also does wild art events; making leaf prints into clay and using leaves and branches from trees to create art.
“We did the exact same thing last year in the Mile End and Stepney area called ‘Neighbourhood Nature’ and the turnout was great. We were very busy and had roughly thirteen people, but Shadwell is very difficult.”
FoTHCP has other events planned, such as a Spring Tree and Bird Walk and foraging tours on in Mile End Park, looking at edible wild food.
Spaces are limited, and the public are advised to pre-book a place through Michelle via e-mail, or call at 0208 983 1277.