On a mild December morning I joined the ranks of the Friends of Palewell Common Fields and Nature’s Gym. The task agreed was to maintain the Common’s mud paths suffering from the winter rain. We wheeled wheelbarrows along the waterlogged paths, pouring wood chippings onto the boggy patches. A production line of happy locals, earning the mud on their boots. The quality and value of carrying out this humble task, rather prosaically put, of pathway maintenance was initially not realised by myself, but became evermore apparent.
Nature’s Gym was born from a partnership between Lewisham Council and Glendale Ground Management to organise volunteers to carry out conservation and maintenance work. Richmond Council were impressed with the scheme and have now also got on board. Within Richmond Borough, Gina Beresford, partnered with an intern, go to a different park or green space three times a week, including one Saturday a month, harnessing local will.
A pooling of knowledge and resource, but most importantly get-up-and-go attitude. It was evident that the relationship between Nature’s Gym and the friends group was a collaborative partnership; what to do was up for discussion. This day was paths and each volunteer worked with enthusiasm, telling tales to each other as they carried out their work.
Far from hard labour, it felt very social, an element that seemed important and cherished by everyone there. Some were working hard to build up their festive appetite, and others taking their time to share stories whilst they filled barrows with chippings or tended to the sodden mud. From my few hours with everyone there, it was evident that there was a unanimous sense of pride; keeping their patch tidy. The day was only positive.