Guest blog by Rishi Sunak MP, Minister for Local Government: the importance of access to London’s green spaces

 

Rishi Sunak MP


This week we welcome Rishi Sunak MP to our guest blog. As Minister for Local Government, Rishi is responsible for parks and green spaces – find out more about Rishi on the GOV.UK website. 


Parks breathe life into our towns and cities, providing important opportunities for people to get together, exercise or get away from the pressures of modern life.  Recent research from the charity Fields in Trust shows that living close to and visiting parks and green spaces can increase people’s wellbeing and improve their health.

Back in my home constituency of Richmond I’m fortunate to have access to two of Britain’s most beautiful national parks – the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. But in London my family and I rely on the network of fantastic parks and green spaces to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My two young daughters particularly enjoy our local park – a valued space that allows the family to relax and spend quality time together. We certainly feel very lucky to be in one of the greenest cities in the world.

That’s why the work of London Parks and Gardens Trust is so important. Its efforts to increase awareness and appreciation of London’s parks reflect the importance of green spaces to daily life in our capital city.

Their flagship event Open Garden Squares Weekend in June provides public access to over 200 gardens, many of which are normally private. It’s a great initiative that gives Londoners the opportunity to spend time in some of the city’s most special green spaces. Our local Bramham Gardens will be included and I would encourage all Londoners to see which gardens in their local area will be open.

As Parks and Green Spaces Minister I am pleased to say that the government shares this enthusiasm in making sure England’s green spaces are supported and more people are able to enjoy the great outdoors. That is why the government has set up and funded a new Parks Action Group to address issues facing England’s public parks. I relish the opportunity to attend their next meeting and encourage their efforts to grow support for public parks and other green spaces across England.

Our £1 million ‘pocket parks’ fund has also helped transform neglected and derelict spaces and seen the creation of over 80 new green spaces for communities to enjoy in urban areas across the country. And the decision to extend the Green Flag Award license by a further five years in September 2017 means the people behind Britain’s best parks and green spaces continue to be recognised and awarded for their tireless dedication.

Most recently, we announced plans for a new Northern Forest as part of our 25 Year Environment Plan. The ambition and forward-thinking behind this initiative is further evidence of our long-term commitment to building a greener country.

We will continue to promote the importance and value of our parks and we encourage organisations like London Parks and Gardens Trust in their efforts to improve access and awareness of London’s great green spaces.

Their commitment helps to allow us to continue enjoying and valuing the benefits parks and green spaces bring to public life.

Celebrating, championing and cultivating London’s gardens: how your ticket money is spent

Tickets went on sale for 2018’s Open Garden Squares Weekend last week, and we’re really excited to see the event taking shape. Your ticket will give you access to over 200 magical gardens – many often closed to the public – as well as a range of activities for all the family, and we’re confident that there’s something for everyone to discover, explore and enjoy.

King Henry's Walk Garden N1 (veg garden) © Open Garden Squares Weekend

We run Open Garden Squares Weekend each year to celebrate the best in horticulture and open space available across London, but after the Weekend is over, the money you spend on your ticket will carry on doing good across London’s invaluable green spaces. Money from ticket sales helps us pay for the work undertaken by the London Parks and Gardens Trust throughout the rest of the year, to champion parks, gardens and all open spaces faced with increased development pressure in the planning system.

We also like to share some of the additional funds we generate directly with the gardens who participate in the event and who help us to make it such a special weekend for all who visit. In 2017, we were able to give over £5,500 to local groups across London from surplus funds generated during last year’s Open Garden Squares Weekend.

From the large scale to the small, the Weekend embodies the vision of the London Parks and Gardens Trust: to champion, celebrate and cultivate London’s green spaces. We look forward to continuing to support community and local groups in this aim during OGSW 2018.

To find out more about LPGT’s work and vision, please do visit our website at www.londongardenstrust.org

 

OGSW 2018 tickets are on sale now!

We are delighted to announce that tickets are now on sale for Open Garden Squares Weekend 2018. For one very special weekend, over 200 green spaces – many usually closed to the public – will open their gates for your enjoyment and discovery. Book online now! 

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With a Weekend ticket you can explore London’s urban gardens and enjoy a host of activities and experiences for all the family. There are community gardens, gardens in schools and churches, on rooftops, on railway platforms, in skips, behind shops, and floating on the water.

Book now: early-bird advance tickets cost £15 for adults, £12 for students (NUS card must be shown at every garden) and £8 for those aged 18 and under. Under 12s go free. A single ticket gains access to all gardens (excluding those with special conditions for entry) for both Saturday and Sunday.

Activities on offer will include performances, guided walks and talks, cycle rides, tastings and demonstrations, and a wide variety of refreshments. New gardens for 2018 include: Victoria Hall – The Institute of Ismaili Studies, with two contemporary gardens both featuring water; 49 Bankside, together with The Deanery – two secret, tranquil gardens next to the Globe Theatre; Cody Dock, a former coal barge service dock transformed into a community-led riverside garden; and Cannon Bridge House Roof Garden, an exemplar of planting for biodiversity.

Special garden tours, ballots and bookable events

Follow our blog, subscribe to our email newsletter (enter your email at the bottom of the Open Garden Squares homepage), and find us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and you’ll be the first to hear details of a wide range of walking and cycle tours, special garden tours including those open by ballot only, family activities and other events. Many activities are free but some require advance booking.

Can you help?

If you are interested in volunteering over Open Garden Squares Weekend please email ogswvols@londongardenstrust.org. In exchange for a four hour shift in one of the gardens, you will receive a free Open Garden Squares Weekend ticket valid for the whole weekend.

The birth of Open Garden Squares Weekend: guest blog by Caroline Aldiss

In our first guest blog, OGSW’s founder Caroline Aldiss tells her personal story of how the idea to open up London’s patchwork of gardens was born and nurtured 21 years ago. 


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It’s a pleasure to be the first to write for this new Open Garden Squares Weekend blog, as acknowledgment as the event’s founder. It’s amazing to see that it’s been 21 years since the first open day, when 40 gardens opened their gates, and to witness the Weekend’s growth to over 200 gardens that now participate.

I remember having the original idea in the early 1990s, sitting in Collingham Gardens, South Kensington. I was living in a women’s hostel adjacent to this garden, and very thankful to have a key. I had found sanctuary there following turbulent years trying to cope with the disabling consequences of undiagnosed health conditions. I sat feeling wretchedly ill, unable to move my life forward, missing Norfolk, where I was originally from, with its great open spaces, and suddenly the idea came – of opening up the patchwork of gardens throughout London on a special day. It filled me with hope that this new event could, on this day, open London’s green spaces, providing an opportunity for these secret gardens to be seen and shared. Thoughts germinated over the next few years, not only of unlocking these gates, but of holding a mix of wonderful activities within the gardens – fêtes, fairs and fun too, wherever possible. I have always cared about the environment, so hoped it would encompass awareness-raising projects in this respect as well.

It was not until 1996-7 that I started to write up the idea proposal, and took it to various organisations. My social skills had almost disintegrated due to isolation from ill health, but thankfully the written word helped. I remember approaching many organisations in London, and travelling out of town on a blazing hot day to an office in what felt like the wilds to visit another organisation – sadly none of them showed interest.  Finally, I approached my friend John Ette who worked at English Heritage, who gave me the opportunity to present my idea to his colleague Chris Sumner and then to Pamela Paterson, the Chair of the London Parks and Gardens Trust. It felt like an interminable wait until a letter came back from the Trust giving me the go ahead, including a budget, the use of the Trust’s office at Duck Island Cottage in St James Park, and support from the two organisations. A monthly committee meeting at these organisations helped make sure plans didn’t veer off track.

I started to get a team together to make the event a reality, which included the following people: Miranda McDonald, who acted as a ‘second lieutenant’ for the first few months, holding a similar belief in the idea and some of the social skills I lacked at the time; Annie Langford, who helped with research and admin; Sylvan Mason, who was a great support and set up the new database; and William Cormack, who, alongside others such as John Ette, acted as a wise sounding board. I had a firm idea of how I would like the event to proceed, and was grateful to be the organiser for the first year. I frequently worked part-time from home using a telephone and fax – digital technology wasn’t available at the time. It was not easy – like many trying to cope with challenging health conditions, for me this meant a few hours working on the project and then many hours recuperating. I continued co-organising in this way, alongside the London Parks and Gardens Trust and English Heritage, to the end of the second year, when it was a great relief to hand over the boxes of admin for them to fully take over.

Since then, I meet up with the organisers and contribute, usually in the form of articles, talks or feeding back garden ideas and possibilities. I’ve always had a great sense of wonder and gratitude to see its expansion and popularity – having met the founder of the Open House in the first year it seemed to me that this could easily become its sister event. Many people have organised it since, with its consequent expansion to a Weekend. Ian Kennaway, one of these influential organisers, has also amazingly taken the idea further afield to other countries.

My dear Mum helped edit the original proposals, as I’m quite dyslexic, and was greatly encouraging throughout; she sadly died in 2016. She would proudly announce, “My daughter started this,” with every garden we visited over the years, which was lovely but also quite embarrassing! She also had a great belief in the following well-known quote and would remind me of it at times of faltering:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.’ The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by WH Murray

This commitment magic has definitely been the case with this idea, which took off so organically and profoundly. All those involved have enabled its success and growth, not least: those who gave its original go ahead and helped supported it through its formative years; the garden committees, manning their gates and providing hospitality; the many subsequent teams of organisers and volunteers at the London Parks and Gardens Trust. All have kept faith and seen it through challenging and varied weather conditions!

Its blossoming is a great joy to myself and many others – not least perhaps those who, after all this effort, get to visit these beautiful gardens and to experience the Weekend’s interests and hospitality. Well done all. Happy 21st Birthday to Open Garden Squares Weekend.

Welcome to our blog!

Hello, and welcome to our new Open Garden Squares Weekend blog. If you’re looking for OGSW news, updates, opinions, tips and all kinds of interesting stories, then you’re in the right place.

We’ll be posting regular updates, including occasional guest blogs offering personal stories or viewpoints from both public figures with an interest in gardens and OGSW in particular, to those involved in the running of the weekend. We’ll also be sharing ticket offers and promotions, and sharing our tips for the weekend to help you make the most of your time.

We hope you enjoy reading our blog over the coming weeks and months – if there’s anything you’d particularly like to see us post, please let us know in the comments box.

Cadogan Place South during Open Garden Squares weekend on Sunday
Cadogan Place South, photographed by Diana Jarvis