113 people passing the devastated Orchard beside Camberwell Green were asked for their opinions of the felling by one of the campaigners who had fought in vain to save this doomed green space.
She informed me that a small minority (thirteen people) made it abundantly clear that they did not sympathise with the campaigners.
The other one hundred were “degrees of furious” and their comments included (Southwark councillors please take note): “they haven’t even recycled the wood they cut for benches and sculptures: everything waste and destruction,” – “Everyone in the Court House is talking about this and complaining” – “all the fun is gone” – “disgusting” – “bad” – “done it the wrong way” – “1000 years bad luck to the people who cut the trees” – “I can remember when it was planted” – “not right” – “not good” – “RUDE!!!!!” – “very upset” – “appalling” – EXPLETIVE DELETED – “Knew the girls who planted it” – “Destroys the beauty” – “That was our Orchard” – “Bad Planning” – “Rubbish.”
The Orchard came down suddenly, without any of us having had the chance to ask Southwark whether we could salvage so much as a raspberry bush for re-planting elsewhere.
Episodes like this can only harden the attitudes of protestors, and intensify a sense of conflict between public and planners. In some circles, there have been comments that a site occupation could have delayed felling whilst Southwark sought an eviction order and that this would have generated a great deal of publicity and widespread support for the Orchard.
I visited the site on October 12, 2013, to take photographs and I spoke with two people. Sadly, neither could be described as sympathetic. One commented that complaints only began when it was too late, the site had not been managed properly (and locked) and that a lot of campaigners weren’t local, but came from the south of the Borough. He had swallowed Southwark propaganda. The facts? The charity supporting the project had gone bust and Southwark became unhelpful. There were numerous local campaigners. Despite severe limitations on their time as volunteers, they had fought strenuously and organised litter picks and other events. Clearly, local campaigners had a duty to seek support from other bodies – London’s green space watchdogs must back each other. The south of the same Borough is hardly the antipodes! Sadly, Southwark, like many councils, had been predictably biased and selective in whom it had been prepared to recognise and hear as the genuine voice of the local community.
The other encounter? Well, there I was engaged in the perfectly legal activity of taking a few photographs down the length of Camberwell Green, just in case they might come in useful, when a man on the Green began shouting at me. He made it clear that he did not wish to appear in my photographs. He came over to the railings and I showed him that I had deleted the picture with him in it (it isn’t my policy to publish photos of people who ask me to not to). However, he continued to scream abuse, flecks of spittle going everywhere, getting angrier and angrier and he finally climbed over the railings, making it clear that he was going to attack me and destroy the camera. Fortunately, I was able to sprint away, showing him a clean pair of heels. I forgot to ask him how he felt about the Orchard.
OFFERING AN OLIVE BRANCH TO SOUTHWARK COUNCIL?Would it be possible to work our way back from our present entrenched confrontation into a new and constructive relationship with Southwark? It would not be easy. After receiving suggestions from the public, however, we are inviting Southwark to work with us to defuse conflict and restore trust. We are suggesting that Southwark enter into negotiations with a consortium of green campaigners to explore launching a positive and creative programme of green restoration in which Southwark councillors and officers and campaigners could share the credit.
These might include:
1) Creating belts of new habitat during the refurbishment of Camberwell Green;
2) Planting a new orchard feature and swinging it around the new library;
3) Ensuring that the new library building is constructed using the most environmentally friendly techniques;
4) Finding spaces (even small ones) where new community ecology/orchard features could be created as wildlife stepping stones across the urban landscape – which could mean a net gain in food-growing and ecological space. Why not invite back those who planted the Orchard when they were children to plant up replacement sites? Then, their efforts would not have come to nothing; but would have produced a long-term legacy. That would encourage others to give their time, money and effort to civic projects, knowing that they would be making a real difference.