Protesters gather to oppose private nursery in South Woodford park
- Credit: Elmhurst for Everyone
South Woodford community groups held a picnic protest in opposition to the takeover of a former bowling club by a private nursery.
Campaigners, who claim about 100 locals attended their event at Elmhurst Gardens on Saturday, August 7, want the site to be used as a community space and claim the tendering protest was unfairly handled.
Cllr Kam Rai, deputy leader of Redbridge Council and cabinet member for finance, leisure and culture, arrived at noon and spoke with residents about their concerns for over an hour.
Elmhurst for Everyone campaigner Kerry Oliver said: “It was so fantastic to see over 100 people from the locality, of all ages, coming together in such awful weather to show how much they appreciate and love this park and talk together about how fantastic it would be to have a community space and café here.”
Residents have been lobbying Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure (RCL) and Redbridge Council to make the space usable by the whole community since the closure of the bowling club in November 2020.
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Instead, Vision RCL, which runs parks and open spaces in the borough, approved kGems Nursery – who already operate two nurseries out of Clayhall and Valentines parks – to open there instead.
A kGems spokesperson said that the company would ensure their presence adds social value to the park and have committed to working with, and giving an annual £1,000 donation to, the Friends of Elmhurst Gardens group.
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Community group Elmhurst for Everyone, who have gathered more than 1,500 signatures in opposition to the decision, claim that the tendering process was unfair.
Submissions for tenders ran from February 9 to 23, but in Vision's annual report submitted to the charity commission, which was signed on March 2, it said one of the future goals was to change usage of two former bowls pavilions into nurseries to generate additional income.
After complaints, the tender process was rerun, with five bids submitted in June. It was announced in July that kGems had once again been given the rental, although campaigners claim they were given little time to prepare their bids.
The campaign claims that Vision are simply selling to the highest bidder and therefore are not conforming to their charitable objectives.
At Saturday’s protest, Churchfields resident Melissa Miller said it was “short-sighted” of Vision and the council “not to capitalise on the positive community cohesion and enthusiasm that exists in this neighbourhood.”
A kGems spokesperson noted that the company was owned and run by Redbridge residents.
They added: “We are confident that we will be able to deliver high quality nursery and cafe facilities for the local community here.
“Our proposal ensures that the young and the elderly have a space to meet and socialise.
“Anyone from the community will also be able to hire out the nursery garden over the weekend for children's events.”
A spokesperson for Visions RCL said: “Vision have engaged throughout the discussions on Elmhurst Gardens and continue to do so. At no stage has Vision refused to engage with anyone.
“The council organised an online public meeting on Elmhurst Gardens on 11th May 2021. The Vision Head of Parks and Open Spaces attended this meeting and contributed fully in the discussion.
“At this meeting a number of suggestions were put forward which were considered and it was agreed at the meeting that the process to advertise the opportunity at Elmhurst Gardens should be re-opened.
“Vision engaged and re-opened the process and subsequently extended the closing date and amended the evaluation criteria based on contributions from those in the public meeting.
“Vision believe that the successful bidder agreeing to contribute £1,000 annually to the friends of the park, support the hosting of community events and opening a cafe for users has significantly enhanced the offer and will benefit the wider community significantly.”