Anyone with an opinion worth listening to counts Hilly Fields as one of the best things about living in Brockley. The stunning slopes play a central role in local life, from the Summer Fayre and the Max, to the farmers market and the inaugural fun run.
And yet the park itself is relatively little discussed on this site. We've been aware of the Hilly Fields Users Group for a while, but not sure who to talk to about their work. Fortunately, Sue Luxton sent us a copy of their minutes and gave us the contact details for them. Having just interviewed Rachel, from the Users Group, we're glad to hear that 'better communication' is a high priority for them, going forward. We're also pleased to hear that a cafe, while still a distant prospect, is something they support.
Here's what she told us about the group's work and Hilly Fields' future:
What does the group do?
I've been involved for about five or six years, but the group's been going a lot longer.
In the early days, our remit was just to scrutinise Glendale, the park management contractors. It was a very limited and not especially rewarding role! These days, we are more proactive and have developed a long-term plan for the park, which has the support of the Council.
It's been difficult to raise money for improvements. We work well with Martin Hyde, from Lewisham Council's "Green Scene" department, but they have relatively little money to fund what we need. However, the Council is considering trying to achieve "Green Flag" status [the national standard of excellence] and to do that, they'd need to put some money in to it.
So what has the group been working on?
Well, most of what we do is not especially radical. We have been working to improve the biodiversity of the park and make small improvements to its physical appearance and facilities.
Specific projects we've been involved with include:
- Planting the meadow to increase the number and range of flowers
- Creating a new gate on the east side, to improve access and reduce flytipping, which had been a problem
- A 'bird champion' project to encourage more birds to use the park
- We're currently petitioning the deputy mayor to secure funding for the paths. At the moment, there are some people who simply can't get up the hill because of the poor surface. You can sign it at the Sunflower Centre.
We recently got some funding from the Ladywell localities fund for an outdoor table tennis table, which is now on order and will go up by the tennis courts. [Brockley Central loves this idea but is slightly concerned that a game so susceptible to wind should be positioned in such an exposed spot...]
Longer term, what are your plans?
We want to improve the playground. It doesn't compare well with many other parks, such as Telegraph Hill, and it's too exposed to the elements. We'd invest in brand new equipment and relocate sections of it so that the park steps down the hill more. That's a big undertaking though and could cost up to £200,000. But if the Council is serious about Green Flag status, then that's the kind of thing they need to do.
Relocating parts of the playground would also be in keeping with our vision, which is to minimise clutter at the top, so that people can enjoy the stunning views properly.
We're hoping to become a pilot project for Natural England, which has money available for projects which enhance biodiversity in city sites. This would involve making some big improvements to the meadow area.
The toilets are in poor condition and our ambition is to create a cafe in the park, which everyone tells us would be the best change we could make to Hilly Fields. Obviously, the park's accessibility is a big challenge in terms of how we would protect a cafe from burglary and vandalism. Ladywell Fields built something similar and, despite it being completely emptied every night, it was still broken into. We'd still like to make it happen, even if we have to start with a temporary solution to test the market, but honestly, there is no plan to make it happen at the moment. It's the kind of thing we need more help with.
What do you think the group needs to do better?
Most importantly, we need more people. The people who are involved are committed, but we are a small group and we lack some of the skills we need. We really could benefit from the involvement of people who understand how to fund raise effectively.
We only meet a few times a year and people can get as involved as they like - if you just want to help with some planting once or twice, that's fine. If you want to help with fundraising or publicity, but you can't make regular meetings, that's fine too.
Part of our responsibility in this regard is to communicate more effectively with the outside world. To that effect, we are developing a website, but we also need to work more closely with a lot of the other groups in the area, such as the Brockley Society and the Brockley Cross Action Group. A lot goes on in the park that we don't have any involvement with and which the park doesn't benefit from. Not long ago, there was a small fun fair set up in the park without our knowledge and the no money was contributed towards the park by the people who ran it. That seems like a missed opportunity.
What ongoing gripes do you have?
Well, one of the biggest problems is dogmuck. It's sad that it should occupy so much of our time, but it spoils everyone's enjoyment and the problem seems to have got worse recently. We know that there are a small number of dog-walkers who are the problem, but there is no co-ordinated way of penalising them. If you walk your dogs in Hilly Fields, please clean up after them!
How can people who want to help get involved?
Please email me at email@example.com and I can add you to the mailing list or let you know about upcoming meetings.