Harrow Community Group Saves a Park and Social Lives

How one local volunteer group brings a community together through holiday activities while simultaneously saving a park.

 

Pavilion used by Friends of Roxbourne Park

Inside Roxbourne Park in Harrow, a tiny pavilion resembling a cottage is tucked away amidst the late afternoon setting sun. A small sign with “Xmas Flowers” is propped outside what appears to be the front entrance. All is silent around the park, the pavilion a lone standing bungalow at the park’s far corner. When walking up to the building, you immediately notice the bright lights of the single recreational room utilized by a group of enthusiastic people. Push in on the heavy metal door, and you enter a cozy, warm room filled with holiday spirit—the last sentiment you’d expect from a place like this.

For £5, a lifetime membership with Friends of Roxbourne Park will bring locals together once in a while to learn new skills and make new friends. The £5 you put towards a membership not only introduces you to a welcoming community of individuals looking for a place to socialize, but a collective effort to save Roxbourne Park from being ceased by the local council.

In this room, the sense of community that evidently comes from the 30-40 women in attendance proves that the holidays are when people need to be surrounded by others the most. The group is primarily formed of locals, and while adding a social aspect to their day may be priority, the influence that their presence has over saving Roxbourne Park makes the whole thing worthwhile.

“We’re not doing it for the money. We’re doing it so the council knows that people are concerned about what happens in the parks.” Jerry Bloomfield, Chairman of Friends of Roxbourne Park, explained.

No one else is doing this. The group is unique, and only came together in 2016. It’s particularly helpful for the senior community, who make up a significant amount of Harrow’s population. The group is a big hit for those who live alone, especially considering the loneliness that the Christmas season can bring.

Maureen Stevens, a wide-eyed, talkative elderly woman and member of Friends of Roxbourne Park since it began, is one of the members living alone who finds joy in the social aspects it provides. She believes that many who live alone in the community would otherwise not have a place to go without the help of organizations like Friends of Roxbourne Park. “I come with friends, and we make more friends,” she said. “I think it’s important for people who live on their own. It’s a great source of meeting other people, joining in on everything, and the great fun we have. Not just for Christmas, but throughout the year.”

While the group serves a beneficial social purpose, events manager Carole Reid explained that the original intention was to protect local green areas like this park. Being an unused football pavilion, Carole was part of coordinating events throughout the week in the pavilion to pull the community together, and put the building to use so the council would let it remain. With over 300 members now on board, Carole was part of turning the unused football pavilion into a gathering space for locals in the community to have something enjoyable to do. “It’s turned into a big community,” she said. “All these people get to know one another.”

Without the pavilion being used, it would have been taken away. And with that, chairman Bloomfield acknowledges that the Roxbourne Park that locals have become fond of today would not be thriving without their presence. “Roxbourne Park is one of the leading parks in Harrow because we make a lot of noise,” Bloomfield said. “It’s a brilliant park.”

The idea came to Bloomfield when he retired five years ago, and noticed the unused building. He got in touch with the council, and considered whether or not they could have a park organization, to which they were eager. He set up a website and a Facebook page to generate interest a couple of years ago, where he being the idea curator was the suitable choice for Chairman.

Their future may include building a bandstand and starting up all-weather football and potentially a community hall. The plans are big, they just need sufficient money and council support. This afternoon’s activity is led by Ann Marie French, a “floral designer”. She shows the mostly older women how to create homemade wreaths, table arrangements and gifts. A wife and mother of grown children, French enjoys the hobby that she has been able to turn into a social teaching experience. She’s witty, makes the room laugh easily, and starts a conversation.

“She makes it look so simple” one of the women in attendance whispers to the other on her side. Ann overhears, and responds: “It’s very simple. You can all go home and do this.”

Ann Marie French leading the flower arrangement course

The women are easily entertained by Ann. She’s charming, and explains to the group how to create these gifts in their own home. She encourages everyone to take notes to be able to do it at home. A decorator since the 1980s, Ann enjoys sharing her expertise with the Harrow community. It was a hobby that flourished for her, and she wanted something to do after her children went on to school. She’s happy to see the bigger turn-out with today’s event. It’s brought her closer to her neighbours, which is exactly what Friends of Roxbourne Park aims to do. “It’s wonderful to be able to create something that is never the same, and to give to people,” she said. “I have a husband, but other ladies are on their own, and it makes a huge difference to their lives.”

The decorations are simple but elegant. They don’t take more than a few minutes each. The elements can be purchased from stores like Marks & Spencer, and range from pine cones to candles. Ann discusses the process in maintaining the wreaths by watering them and tending to them to keep them fresh. The women whisper amongst themselves about the decorations they currently have in their home, and how they “won’t have room for more” after a day like today. They all look intrigued, and often gasp or sound in awe throughout the explanations. Heads tilted, they pay innate attention to Ann throughout the two hours of the course.

The wreaths are an elegant mix of both real and artificial ingredients. Aromas of cinnamon and greenery film the room. Sparkly, plain, whatever the holiday heart desires, it can be created.

At the end of the course, tea cups and refreshments are served to the attendees, which is included in the £5 additional price of attendance for the day. A raffle was also drawn for the decorations created by Ann, with a few lucky visitors taking home one of the 10 creations of the day.

The upkeep of Roxbourne Park by this dedicated group of locals is an important reminder that coming together as a community not only serves a personal purpose, but helps fight for causes that matter. In this season of giving and receiving, Friends of Roxbourne Park is able to do both.

“The idea originally was to help the council look after this beautiful park,” Bloomfield says. “What happened was people who wanted to run events… We’ve got people who want to organize events on the committee, and that’s where we are now. We’ve got so many people, they just want somewhere to go.”

[Feature image: Diana Whistance-Smith]

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