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Green Spaces Project of the Month

August 2003 - The Clovelly Centre Garden, Southampton

Contact:
Plincke Landscape Ltd. (London & South-East) tel. 020 7631 5324
Plincke Landscape Ltd. (South & South West ) tel. 01962 842828
Plincke Landscape Ltd. (Midlands & North) ) tel. 01926 886477

Understanding the multi-cultural use of space.

The common perception of Hampshire is one of a prosperous county, with a largely middle-class, white population. This ignores the evidence that it has within its urban centres such as Southampton; considerable number of people living in economically and socially deprived communities. This also includes those from different ethnic backgrounds. In 1997 the Southampton Environment Centre established The Shannon project, as a way of bringing the message of sustainable development and social justice to individuals at a community level. Small scale, grassroots projects help to promote environmental awareness, encouraging local communities to enhance and take pride in their outdoor surroundings, thus improving the quality of their lives. The success of these small projects lies in the ease with which local people can manage them, thereby realising a sense of ownership, without the bureaucratic intervention often unavoidable with larger schemes.

One such project was achieved at The Clovelly Centre, a focal point for local Asian people close to the centre of Southampton. The city's historic Central parks are nearby, but they are not much frequented by members of the Asian community, the cultural ethos, for women in particular, being that they prefer to remain close to the intimacy of their homes, rather than negotiate busy roads and subways to visit the parks. The Clovelly Centre is situated in a high-density area of Victorian terraced houses many of which are visibly in need of repair and restoration. The Centre's location, created from a bomb-site, which opened up a gap in the dense grid of housing, was an uninspiring one: mown grass and concrete so often the only landscape to be found in urban areas.

Help with the creation of a garden was sought from Hampshire Gardens Trust, a voluntary organisation and educational charity, which look for opportunities to create new community gardens in urban areas. In consultation with local people, the Trust produced a design for the garden that grew out of cultural references; in particular inspiration was drawn from the flowing and colourful saris of traditional Asian dress, which so brightly contrasts with the Victorian houses. This colour and movement was translated into brightly planted borders for the south-facing street front of the Centre. At the rear, features include a seating and barbecue area, with a play space for toddlers, and a woven willow tunnel to encourage exploration and contact with wildlife. A pergola provides shade from the sun and a mosaic is proposed when funds permit Workers from the `probation Service carried out much of the garden construction, such as paving and raised beds.

A second phase of the garden is under construction that will connect the space to an adjacent area managed by Age Concern. The enlarged space will engage all ages of the community. Again the design has been based upon cultural references. These include a screen fence of woven copper strips which represent the creation of the sacred River Ganges. Of equal importance is the subtle delineation of separate `rooms' within the gardens. This has been achieved through the use of pergolas and built structures as well as planting. This enables a subtle segregation of the sexes: still an important consideration among Asian groups especially those dealing with the elderly.

The completed garden will act as an important local focus for events and activities. Such a venue enables for cultural expression that helps to build a strong sense of community through collective experiences.

Hampshire Gardens Trust was able to arrange for members of The Clovelly Centre to visit the Hillier Gardens and Arboretum, less than half an hour away. Their guide took them on an exciting tour of plants from the Asian continent, inspiring new ideas about plants to use in the garden. It is also hoped that the trip also raised a curiosity to explore the region beyond the city centre.

The Hampshire Gardens Trust and the Single Regeneration Programme have funded the project. The landscape designer was Plincke Landscape Ltd., Winchester. In spite of its context within a deprived, urban area, the scheme has suffered little from vandalism.

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