It doesn’t take long for visitors to Meanwhile Gardens to understand just how important this project is to the local community. Walking through the gardens as they gently meander alongside the Grand Union Canal, it is a hive of activity. Volunteers are planting flowerbeds, parents and toddlers are dropping into the play hut for a splash in the paddling pool, teenagers are perfecting their tricks in the skatepark and a group of trainees are busy tending to a wildlife area.
It’s a scene both familiar and rewarding to Chandrika Dalpat, who oversees Meanwhile Gardens with the help of a small committed team and a group of enthusiastic local volunteers. After starting at Meanwhile Gardens in 1994 as an administrator – “I certainly never expected to still be here 18 years later,” she says – Chandrika is now the charity’s project manager.
Meanwhile Gardens was founded by sculptor Jamie McCulloch in 1976, when he spotted a patch of derelict land between Golborne Road and Great Western Road and had the vision to see a community space that could become a real asset for the area. After petitioning the council, he was eventually granted the opportunity to clear the site and run it as a community garden, but only until such time as a permanent use for the land was found. It was this temporary nature that inspired the name Meanwhile Gardens, with the project quickly proving so popular that the charity was soon given a permanent mandate to run the site.
“One of the great things about Meanwhile Gardens is that it is a genuine community garden in every sense of the word. This is a part of London where there is a recognised shortage of green space for people to enjoy, and so the community is working together to create something incredibly special,” says Chandrika. “There’s a small team that manages all the activity, for which we’re reliant on charitable donations and grants, but much of the work here is done by local volunteers who are helping to create this vital community space.”
With a wildlife area, wooded glade, large educational pond Moroccan garden, skatepark, drop-in playgroup and a sunny lawn, Meanwhile Gardens certainly has something for everyone. Says Chandrika: “We get school groups here learning about pond life, we have people practising their tai chi in one area of our gardens, there’s PE lessons taking place on the lawn. There’s just a real cross-section of the community here, and it reflects the surrounding area.”
The playhut, a free drop-in centre for kids up to six years old and their parents, is open between 2pm and 5pm each day (except Wednesday), providing a place for families to come to enjoy the outdoors or, if the weather isn’t great, some arts and crafts time inside. “For children that perhaps don’t have a garden at home, Meanwhile Gardens is really very important,” says Chandrika. “One of our volunteers describes the project as ‘nature’s classroom’ and he’s absolutely right.
“To many people, Meanwhile Gardens represents a little oasis of calm amid all the hustle and bustle of the city and that’s exactly what we’re trying to create here. It’s an incredibly unifying place, bringing people from disparate sections of the community together, and the results are there for everyone to see. I’d urge anyone that hasn’t been to Meanwhile Gardens to come over and see with their own eyes what a fantastic place it really is.”
For more information about Meanwhile Gardens visit the website at www.meanwhilegardens.com or contact Chandrika, Meanwhile Gardens Project Manager on 020 8960 4600