Moving from grey to green: how this East London community transformed their neighborhood

We know that spending time in nature can significantly improve mental and physical wellbeing. We also know that access to nature is not experienced equally. That’s why for the last few years we’ve been working to improve access to nature across the UK and support nature-based therapeutic interventions, such as #GrowYourLove for the NHS, together with our partners Trees for Cities and NHS Forests.

It’s also why, during this year’s Mental Health Awareness week, we’re celebrating the huge community effort by local residents living around Alma Street in Newham, East London, to take climate action and create a greener, healthier, and more connected neighborhood.

The pioneering community-led project "Greener Together" is supported by Ecosia, and was developed by Hubbub, Ten Years' Time, Afterparti and the Mayor of London.

By coming together, the residents have transformed neglected areas into communal green spaces for better health and wellbeing, where the community can spend more time together, enjoying the outdoors.

As well as focusing on improving access to nature and mental wellbeing, the project also aims to address the fact that lower income and Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in London are most likely to experience the impacts of climate change, including overheating and flooding, as well as poor air quality, and lack of access to green spaces. Despite this, the same communities are often underrepresented in mainstream environmental programs and groups. These inequalities have been further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help tackle these challenges, the residents have created a garden with wildlife-friendly flowers and plants, as well as installed a community allotment for growing herbs and vegetables. The project also offers free gardening workshops, which help boost mental health and provide the skills residents need to continue to maintain the green spaces in the long-term.

Besides environmental justice, the project has allowed residents to work alongside Newham Council to tackle other social issues within the area including accessibility issues for disabled residents, and rough-sleeping.

Access to nature

Data shows that the borough of Newham is one of the most environmentally and socially deprived in London. A 2020 study by CentricLab highlighted the borough as having the highest compounded factors of “structural racism”, looking at population density of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (per 100k population) overlapped with pollution and deprivation data. This coincides with the Mayor of London’s data, which highlights areas in the borough with high income deprivation and high levels of environmental inequality.

To address poor air quality locally, Alma Street has also been provided with an air quality monitor through the Mayor’s Breathe London program. This provides real-time data which can help inform local actions to reduce people's exposure to toxic pollution.

The project has not only empowered the residents to create more green spaces for the community to enjoy, but it has also helped them combat social isolation through community projects, events and meetings.

Local resident and community coordinator Billie-Jean has been one of the key residents in getting her neighborhood behind this project. “The Greener Together project has been a dream come true for many of our residents,” Billie told us. “For a long time they have felt disheartened and pessimistic about the issues our community was facing — from litter and fly-tipping to lack of accessible green space. Through coming together to tackle these problems, many members of our neighborhood now feel empowered and valued. We’ve all learned that if residents and authorities work together, we can make our community better, healthier and stronger. I’m so pleased with what we’ve achieved with our much-needed new play area — the space will not only benefit local children but also the adults who will now have access to fitness equipment which will help get more people outside and active. I’m really excited about what lies ahead and what we can achieve as a community moving forwards.”

Inspired to take action in your city? Check out Hubbub’s Make Your Move campaign to help the planet, from cutting emissions to protecting your city’s wildlife.

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