Once upon a time (less than a year ago), in a land (not so) far away, I stood with members of the GG clan at the foot of concrete towers in a shiny granite land. This was Regent’s Place, a land that sits on the edge of the busy, noisy Euston Road; two miles west of the Skip Garden. For the newcomer, Regent’s Place can be a scary place. Although there are no signs to say ‘KEEP OUT,’ it can feel unwelcoming. However, appearances can be beguiling, and as we have discovered before, the most unexpected places, the ‘edgelands’ of a city, can inspire creativity.
In any ecosystem, the most fertile and biodiverse area is the edge, whether that be the waters’ edge, or the edge of a forest. For many years now I have been drawn to the ‘edgelands’ in the middle of a city; the often out-of-bounds spaces inside developers’ zones. Travelling hopefully, my colleagues and I have chosen to work on the outside of the inside. This has required a degree of compromise and a vigilance towards recognising lines that we will not cross. In this work it has been important to form and sustain relationships with local people, the construction and service teams on the ground, and the conductors who are orchestrating the development. Juliette Morgan is a conductor in the very best sense of the word. Knowing that things need to change, Juliette, who heads up the Campus for British Land at Regent’s Place, had invited us into to the jaws of this corporate dragon. Fortunately for us it has turned out to be a very friendly dragon. Juliette, who is relatively new to the post, has a heart and a passion to find ways for Regent’s Place to genuinely benefit the community, and is committed to making a positive statement for the environment. Her realistic brand of enthusiasm is hard to resist. That being said, even imagining ourselves beginning was quite a challenge.
On that first day, as my colleagues and I stood in the concrete and the rain, I noticed my attention shift. From looking for clues in the sharp angular lines of the granite blocks that surrounded us, my attention turned to how alive and engaged the conversation was between us. Everyone was speaking their minds honestly and openly. We didn’t all agree about how to approach this new step, or even if we should step in this direction. It was clear that this was about far more than coming up with a simple design proposal for a meanwhile community garden in the main piazza. The air was filled with glimpsed potentials and very real concerns.
“It feels wrong to import the community into this very alien space. It’s a space designed to keep people out – we can’t force them in”
“Could we support the animation of a ‘green line’ that would run from Regent’s Park through to King’s Cross and beyond?”
The challenge of it all felt both exciting and daunting. I felt something could happen but I didn’t know what. Even though we have been through this process several times in other places, it is hard to believe, that less than 12 months on, many of our original questions have been answered:
“Maybe the start should be a kitchen – where we can feed people and begin discussions?”
“Where could we sit in circles? Where could the stories begin?”
“Could we get support for a group of Generators for Regent’s Place?”
We have jumped through openings and caught the sparks of interest as they have come our way. Most importantly, we have grown relationships with the people inside and around Regent’s Place who believed in what we were doing and helped us find ways through – Rose Alexander, the Community Manager; Donna Birch, the Estates Manager; Mariam Hassam, a Youth Worker from the nearby Surma Centre, to name a few. Rather than in the main piazza, we needed to find the less manicured spaces, the cracks and crevices in which to begin our work, just like nature does. I am very happy to report that, the following projects are now beginning to take root at Regent’s Place:
Young Generators — a mixed age leadership and social action programme involving children and young people; many of whom live on the nearby Regent’s Park Estate.
The Urban Campsite — a short term campsite complete with a bell tent and hay bale circle for storytelling, in a former restaurant. We are now running workshops here on Mondays and Wednesdays for local schools and community groups.
The Flying Garden — the conversion of a 1950’s Leyland Milk Float into a mobile Kitchen Garden, which will animate a green line between Regent’s Place and our new Story Garden at the British Library.
A workshop space — a former Natwest bank unit is now the backend for our activities in Regent’s Place. It doesn’t yet have a window, but it does have a kitchen, a storage space, room for a carpentry workshop, and double doors that open out into a courtyard, which we will be developing in the spring.
Many thanks to all those who have helped us so far.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get involved going forward.