Elderly community activist succeeds in converting empty, desolate space into a social hub allowing her to meet and mingle with her neighbours

  • Irene lives in Hackney and baulked at the idea of a desolate of land near her home being used for more housing
  • The elderly lady enlisted the help of charity Groundwork to turn the space into a social hub
  • A garden was built for local residents to congregate in and tend to, adding to their sense of local community

Written by Callum Patterson for DonateToday

PUBLISHED: 16:53, 5th Sep 2017 | UPDATED: 17:00, 26th Sep 2017

Isolation

Irene is an incredibly active member of her local community in Hackney, London

Life in a large building – like the one in which Irene lives – can be incredibly lonely at times. 

‘When you are in a big building, sometimes you don’t know the people who are living on the floor above or the floor below you,’ she says, speaking to the charity Groundwork's website. 'So unless you have a family, there is nobody to talk to.’

This isolation was what inspired Irene to do something about the ‘desolate’ area of land close to her flat in London. ‘It was empty,’ she says. ‘It needed filling up with people – they were going to put a house there. No, we need to space to breathe.’

Casting around for some means of providing people with a place to congregate, Irene came upon Groundwork – a charity that is trying to make the world a more environmentally-friendly place by encouraging community-minded people to help look after their local area.

"Unless you have family, there's nobody to talk to."

- Irene

Worth a Million

With support from the charity’s Transform scheme and its Vacant Lot Project, Groundwork and 'What If Projects' were able to: create 40 bespoke vegetable plots; convert old pram sheds into tool sheds; provide chalk, noticeboards, a bank of tools, a full growing season of gardening sessions; and support the community to create a committee to run the garden long term, all under Irene’s supervision, of course.

When asked about how she feels about the project after its completion, Irene isn’t shy about singing its praises. ‘It’s worth a million to me,’ she beams. 

‘It’s really active there. The ladies come down – they bring their cups of tea and things. If you’ve got a space where you can sit and people can come and talk to you, and you can grow things, it brings people together.’

40 bespoke vegetable plots were created at the site under the supervision of Irene and her local community

Success

Inspired by her initial success, Irene has continued to work with Groundwork to further improve her local community. 

With help from the charity, she applied to paint giants Dulux for funding to create a sunrise mural which designed and painted by the local residents themselves.

An incredibly active member of her local community, Irene has also attended courses on Food Safety Hygiene, Community Champion Training and took part in Groundwork’s Vacant Lot Celebration Bus Tour. The elderly lady also attends a Resident Liaison Group to help manage local issues and monitor estate cleaning and services.

Possibly her most daring endeavour, however, would have to be the sky dive she undertook just a year after inspiring the creation of the community garden to raise money for a local hospice.

Please note that names may have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. Images are used for illustrative purposes only and, unless specified, persons included in images are posed models, not the persons mentioned in the article.