Ten years ago, a Hackney resident, Gerard (Gerry) Tissier, decided to drop his comms job, pick up a shovel and dedicate himself to community gardening, eventually earning him Conservationist of the Future award by Bristol Zoological Society.
Taking inspiration from his nature-filled upbringing in Oxfordshire, Tissier wanted to return to his love of trees and bees by bringing it to Hackney.
“Back in 2013/14 I set up a park user group for my local park, Daubeney Fields” he told ELL.
“From there I set up a community garden opposite the park in an abandoned car park. It was a grey eyesore really, so having to clean up that car park – I set up a little community garden there.”
More projects emerged, including one with Friends of the Earth, with the community coming together in the car park to make window boxes out of scaffold boards, filling them with plants and hanging them out and around Daubeney Road.
Soon the street required maintenance. “We crowdfunded for someone called a ‘postcode gardener’ to come and work with residents and clean up their neighbourhood,” Tisser remembered.
Then along came Kate Poland, crowned ‘The UK’s first ever postcode gardener’ in 2018, who began to work with Daubeney Fields.
“She did a whole range of things from planting around to depaving front gardens, to help create the wildlife garden and a community garden.”
According to The Eco Experts, research they conducted in May found Hackney was the second least polluted area in London.
In fact, London’s green spaces as a whole won the city the first ‘National Park City’ award in 2019.
Tissier said: “Almost exactly half of London is green space or blue space and actually the biodiversity that you get in a city and all the different habitats is a lot greater, in fact, than in some national parks.”
As the city’s park evangelist, Tissier holds sessions to introduce school children to the nature that graces the ‘National Park City’.
“You don’t have to watch David Attenborough films about polar bears in the artic. It’s all around us.
Some of these kids may be from estates, they may have never seen an earth worm before so it’s just really teaching children, and people around us, to notice all the nature on our doorstep.”
Tissier hopes to show this to the people of Hackney with his current project called ‘Hackney buzzline’.
This will link up four parks in Hackney to create ecological corridors between them, allowing nature to pass through and for new species of plants to grow.
“So I’m making the council do the big stuff but what we’re doing is really small stuff. We’re digging up meadow patches with members of the community and that’s engaging the children.”
So it’s not just the council doing this, it’s like the community creating the corridor for itself.”
This project is set to take place over three years, including areas Daubeney Fields and Hackney Downs.
Tissier’s is a simple philosophy. “Notice the nature around you, connect with the nature around you. Notice what you’ve got around you on your doorstep, and do something to help people.”