Frontiers’ Volunteers: A people’s park full of London lore
Frontiers’ volunteers have always been at the forefront of community and societal responses. Amy Tighe shares her volunteering efforts cleaning up a local park and learning more about its history.
What is your background and role at Frontiers?
“I’m a production specialist at Frontiers. Prior to this, I did an MA in English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London and I’m hoping to start a part-time Psychology Conversion MSc this autumn. I have done a lot of outdoorsy jobs, such as working at one of London’s city farms and teaching horseback riding, as well as working in hospitality.”
What does the organization you volunteered for do?
“The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (FoTHCP) is an award-winning local charity that protects and cares for the Cemetery Park, which hasn’t been a ‘living cemetery’ since 1966. It’s now a 31-acre nature reserve, open to all, and is London’s most central urban woodland and one of its ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries. Dog-walkers, joggers, families, school groups, and those looking for an unusual stroll for a date are all daily users, and the surface has been resurfaced with recycled materials to make it more accessible for wheelchair users and buggies.”
What did you do during your time volunteering?
“When I arrived, I was given a quick health and safety chat and then it was time to grab a wheelbarrow and start weeding.
“We focused on a plant that had grown enormously in the last two weeks – cow parsley – because it can grow tall and block out the sun for other smaller plants, and when it dies and fertilizes the soil, it provides a high dose of nutrients that creates an environment that trees don’t thrive in. There were half a dozen other volunteers: people who worked together for the council, some local retired nature-lovers, people in between jobs looking to get their hands dirty and make a difference. We took a tea-and-biscuits break after a couple of hours, then suited up again to keep weeding.
“The whole time, there was a constant stream of people jogging past through the dappled sunlight coming through the canopy of trees, school groups being taught about the plants growing there and playing rambunctious games, buggies being determinedly pushed, and dogs coming to sniff out the dug earth.”
What was your motivation for choosing this organization?
“I’ve lived in the borough for five years, so I was keen to get involved in something local. Now that the weather is improving and the days are longer, it seemed a lovely way to do something good and get to chat with new people. I love gardening but am limited to a couple of window boxes on a balcony right now, so it was great to get involved.”
What did you learn from the experience?
“I learned about the history of the cemetery and about commercial cemeteries in general, as well as some interesting snippets of London lore. I had gone there a couple of times but felt a bit odd about walking through, as I wasn’t sure if I was being disrespectful to those buried there – finding out that it has been deconsecrated and is now an open park was a relief.
“I asked lots of questions about the plants there, which Richard, the Cemetary Park officer, was more than happy to answer. I also saw lots of wild garlic and found out that it’s possible to forage, once you have sought and been given permission by the FoTHCP, I came away with enough for three dinners.”
What advice would you give to those looking to get involved in volunteer activities?
“Keep an eye on the Alaya website because new opportunities are popping up there all the time. It can be a great, no-pressure way to meet remote colleagues for the first time, and a good chance to stretch your legs and get away from your screen. There are so many places that would be really grateful for your help, just give it a go!”
We’re looking forward to Amy sharing her wild garlic recipes!
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