Why I founded the Friends of White Horse Park

By - Wednesday 30th November, 2016

Let’s bring back beauty to a forgotten green space in West Croydon

Former flowerbeds in White Horse Park.
Photo author’s own.

At the beginning of September, I and my family moved a short distance, crossing the boundary between East and West Croydon. While at our previous residence in St James’s Road, I had occasionally walked to Park Hill Park to help out with gardening duties at the walled garden.Having fairly recently given up my job as a self-employed gardener, it felt good to get back into my horticultural stride, but what I enjoyed even more was the sense of community and the feeling that we were all working for a common purpose: to create a more beautiful and productive garden.

Once we’d moved, Park Hill Park was a bit further away, and I was keen to check out my nearest park. I actually stumbled across it more by accident than design, while walking to see Grangewood Park. I hadn’t looked at the map that closely and had failed to notice White Horse Road Recreation Ground, which due to a lack of signage, I could have easily missed.

My first impression was not a good one. The first entrance, just off Whitehorse Road on Boulogne Road, doesn’t even have a sign to tell you which park you are in. To the right there is a small secluded garden, which I imagine was once very pretty, in the days when councils actually had a bit more money to spend on civic amenities such as parks. Now, though, it just looked sad and neglected, maintained to the minimum standard but with no sign of the tender loving care without which all gardens somehow seem a bit soulless.

The park cries out for kids to play football, or for someone to walk their dog

Three round flower beds that in the past had held colourful bedding displays were now grassed over to make the business of maintenance so much easier. The rest of the park was almost completely empty, its large expanse of green seeming to cry out for some kids to play football or at the very least someone to walk their dog. The most impressive features were the beautiful lime and plane trees that line some of the edges of the park, aged guardians of a green space that has seen far better days.

It was on my second visit that my anger at negligence reached such a level that I was inspired to act. The council contractors had recently visited the park and had butchered all the shrubs in the small garden, pruning them as if cutting different shrubs into exactly the same box shape was all that was needed. I could imagine the gardeners, doubtless on a tight time schedule, using their hedgetrimmers to swiftly tidy up these unfortunate shrubs, before moving on to their next unfortunate victims. Not only did they prune the plants with no consideration of aesthetics or their individual requirements, they also left the ivy that was starting to grow up the shrubs’ trunks to continue its strangling operation. As someone who tries to garden with a certain respect for the plants within my domain, such brusque, cruel treatment seemed almost sacrilegious. Surely, there must be a better way of looking after this potentially beautiful local amenity.

The cash-strapped council is keen for locals to take over its job

Thus the Friends of White Horse Park group was born.These days the council, strapped for cash, is quite keen for local groups to take over the jobs that used to be done by council gardeners. To be fair, though, they do at least pay for someone to help and liaise with such groups, and one of our first tasks was to arrange a site meeting with Mieke Weiser, the community partnership officer for parks and leisure. She could not have been more encouraging and helpful and gave us the information we needed to become a formally recognised group, along with some suggestions of where we might look for funding.

She spent an hour and a half with us, exploring the park and discussing possibilities of how it might be improved. We agreed that it made sense to start with the three round beds in the small garden. This park is also lucky enough to have a small building with access to water and toilet facilities, and the use and renovation of this building is also something that will be high up on our priority list.

Perhaps our main priority, though, is to attract more members who are interested in helping to improve the appearance, biodiversity and productivity of the park. It is fine to have dreams and visions of how the park could look, but without sufficient volunteers and supporters, they’ll remain merely dreams and visions. I know from my own experience of helping at Park Hill Park and Croydon’s saffron farm in Park Lane how rewarding such voluntary work can be, and I hope that in the coming months I and my fellow committee members will persuade many other people to join us.

I want White Horse Park to be one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse in Croydon

If we want our open spaces to be attractive and wildlife friendly, now more than ever it is up to us to create such spaces. In the coming months we will be carrying out a survey of what the local people think about the park and how they would like to see it improved. Our aim is to make White Horse Park one of the most beautiful, productive and biodiverse parks in Croydon.

If you would like to join us in this exciting challenge, please  us. You can also keep abreast of future activities by visiting our website. If on Facebook, search for the Friends of White Horse Park, and we’d love it if you’d follow us on Twitter @whitehorse_park.

The Friends will be meeting at 10:00am on Sunday 18th December to strip the ivy in the park. Afterwards there will be a festive drink at the Two Brewers in Gloucester Road. I hope to see as many of you as possible.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

More Posts

  • Rosie E

    So glad those planes and limes getting some appreciation!

  • http://www.thegreenstoryteller.com Charles Barber

    Just a slight correction (editor, please note). Although the article shows what inspired the setting up of The Friends of White Horse Park, I am not the sole founder. There are three other people on the committee, that is setting up a community group to improve the park, and we would dearly like to find two or three more people to join us. We hope in time that a wide selection of people from the local community will get involved in this exciting project.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hi there – editor speaking :) . Whilst there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’, all great movements for change are led by exceptional and charismatic individuals who inspire and uplift those around them, offering humanity a vision of hope.

      But enough about me. You’re not doing a bad job with the Friends of White Horse Park.