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Historic urban garden fights eviction

“If the Olympic ideal means anything, it should apply to much more than four weeks of running, jumping and swimming. Friendship, tolerance, vision and healthy, sustainable living are fanfared by Manor Garden Allotments.”

That’s what Cleve West believes, garden writer for The Independent newspaper, and a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal winner.

Manor Gardens is an urban garden of allotments in Stratford, East London, that sits in the north central section of the Olympic Park. It was bequeathed to be allotments ‘in perpetuity’ by their original owner, the Right Honourable Major Villiers. However, the London Development Agency’s plan is to remove Manor Gardens to make a footpath to the Olympic stadia and now to house a public television screen, in the process destroying a century of devoted cultivation and a close-knit community rooted in this irreplaceable site.

The eviction date is set for 2nd April 2007. The planning application for the Olympic Park will be submitted to the Olympic Delivery Authority at the end of January 2007. The public can lodge their objections for the next three to four weeks by signing an online petition at:

petitions.pm.gov.uk/manorgardens

Old timers Tom and Albert, have been growing veg and keeping fit here for 54 and 58 years respectively, taking over from their fathers. 10 year old Boris, whose parents are members, nags them to come to the plot and wants to hand his plot down to his son. Members trust in the permanence of the site, which led one plot holder to scatter his brother’s ashes on his plot.

This diverse community includes Londoners of Turkish Cypriot, Greek, Jamaican and African origin as well as people who can trace their ancestors back to the East End for generations. As a community, they welcome the potential for regeneration brought by the Olympic development. Rather than being moved out of the way, they want to offer their contribution which seems to them to be entirely consistent with the Olympic and Government ambitions. They believe to remove the allotment gardens would be to rip out the ‘healthy heart’ of the Olympic Park area as well as to fragment the community.

Even if the Manor Garden community could be protected by relocation, there is growing opposition from people local to the relocation site on Marsh Lane fields. If planning permission is granted, it would only be for seven years after which the Manor Garden Society may be moved again. But gardens don’t work that way. It would take at least twenty years, plus the right conditions, to re-establish the current food production levels and to create a similarly viable community.

As plot holder Armagan and her friend Cavide said:

“We could make the London Olympics different from all other Olympics. Having the allotments in the Olympic Park and preserving them for the Legacy Park would send out the message world wide that the UK really does care after all.”

It’s still to be seen if the LDA and the Mayor of London care about locally grown initiatives like Manor Garden Allotments, of if the Governments own ideas such as the London Food and the Biodiversity Strategies are just talk.

Iain Sinclair, the award-winning writer and a supporter of the campaign to incorporate the allotments, says:

“We don’t want the Olympic Park imagining for us. We don’t want it over-imagined. We want to imagine it for ourselves. Please preserve the soul of the place as represented by the beautiful Manor Garden Allotments.”

David Mackay, author of the original Stratford City plan and lead architect for the Barcelona Olympic Village and Port, flagged London as the most successful Olympics for regeneration. He recently wrote,

“Unfortunately London has lost this opportunity by deciding to agree to cover the existing recreation facilities with the silliest architecture seen for years with no real concern for a legacy. So far as legacy is concerned, we are being asked to look at the Emperor’s new clothes – so delicate that nobody can see them. If carried out, and with only five years to go, the Olympic legacy is more likely to be like a Hollywood set for a ghost town, or an abandoned Expo site.”

Restauranteurs Samantha and Samuel Clark, who own London’s fashionable restaurant Moro, have pledged to show their support by cooking fresh produce grown by the gardeners at Manor Gardens alongside in-house food heroes Hassan and Reg assisted by Adile. Their New Year Feast will be prepared live at Manor Gardens on 16th January 2007, from 3pm until 8.30pm

Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy their cookery demonstration and to show the strength of support for this precious part of Lea Valley’s heritage. Help stop the ‘Green’ Olympics plan to bulldoze 100 year old Manor Garden Allotments in order to make a television screen.

At the end of the day, the TV will be turned on in the Community Shed at Manor Gardens to show the a programme called ‘Disappearing London’, featuring Manor Garden Allotments, which will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm.

www.lifeisland.org


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