"How we develop areas and places are, in fact, the same: slow and more thoughtful."
Lizzy Daish is one of the initiators of Shuffle; an organization that works to create thoughtful places for public use. Today Shuffle is working its magic in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, right in the middle of Mile End.
Almost all parks in London are cared for by London’s Borough Councils, making Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park somewhat of an anomaly. As the name already implies, the park grows on top of one of London’s former Magnificent Seven Cemeteries. After its closure, the cemetery knew many succeeding owners and slowly but surely degraded to a derelict area; characterized by burned out cars and criminal activity.
In 1990, locals formed the Friends of Tower Hamlet Cemetery Park (FoTHCP), a charity, who since then have worked to turn the former cemetery into the nature reserve the park is today. With a park manager and 3000 volunteers annually they are working to sustain the park, which has become a local nature reserve right in the heart of London. It is here, in this special place that Shuffle has found its new home.
In Rotterdam at the re:Kreators conference, I spoke to Lizzy from Shuffle to see how she and her organization are making the cemetery park into a thriving public space.
How do you make your city?
Working closely together with the FoTHCP, Shuffle has been working to increase community relations with our activities in the park. You can compare the process to the park: slow planting and growing have been a key to its success. Because of the slow and careful gardening, the park is now the largest woodland of London. I feel that it is a good example of how to develop a city. City making is like gardening, you need to let things happen.
What is Shuffle?
In essence, Shuffle came out of a key feeling: we want to create a place where you want to live and feel ownership of. With Shuffle, we try to enact such a place. We do so by bringing people and differences in ideas together, this creates an open and inviting character.
This diversity is also something we put on in our activities. At Tower Hamlet Cemetery park, we organize science and nature workshops for kids and adults, we invite neighbors for dinners in the park, we organise movie screenings, and on top of that we organize Shuffle Festival. This way we bring culture, film, science and arts to the park, for everyone. We try to make our events easily accessible for our neighbors, the events are curated around different themes and offer a mix of affordable and value. We can do this by providing affordable tickets for people living in the community and offer £20 tickets if you come from somewhere else.
What about the future?
All these activities, and especially our festival, are a president for a permanent space. Our first goal is to influence the public realm, in which our festival is the experimental phase to show everything that can be done in the park. Our next step is to redevelop the derelict cemetery lodge in the park to create a permanent space for our activities. We have just reached our crowdfund goal, and will start building soon. This way we are essentially giving the space permanency.
What other City Makers inspire you?
That would definitely be the Cemetery Park’s manager Kenneth. He is the one that is taking care of the park and teaching both the youth and adults about the plants, trees, and animals living and residing in the park.
If we look beyond traditional charities that make the city, I would say that Bangladeshi restaurants and milkshake parlors in East London, pubs and parks all across London are the most inclusive spaces the city has to offer; therefore the people running them truly make the city.
Shuffle is part of the re:Kreators network; a network for cooperative area development projects. At their conference, I had the chance to speak to Lizzy.
What does a platform like New Europe and a successive network like re:Kreators mean for projects like Shuffle?
What is so great about coming together with projects like your own, is to see how different people from different contexts share the same practices. How we develop areas and places are, in fact, the same: slow and more thoughtful. It also shows that we experience the same struggle, each and every one of us needs to explain their projects extensively to city officials who sometimes do not recognize the importance.
Here you do not need to convince others of the importance of your work and you are able to share both successes and difficulties, making it possible to learn from each other and show how it can be done. At the same time, it works as a validation for your own work if you can show others that projects like ours are working and functioning all across Europe. Making people more open minded to the work you are doing.