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How the Pocket Park was Built

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In 2018 Julian Meers expressed interest in this ‘forgotten’ area at the Surbiton end of the Queens Promenade opposite Ravens Ait. He was given the go ahead by Royal Borough of Kingston to start clearing the land surrounding the old gardener’s hut and Queen’s Promenade Friends was formed as a community group, volunteers joined up and the project of creating a pocket park begun. This is what the site looked like when it was started in March 2019; it was a dumping ground and we needed to discover what interesting pieces of our heritage lay beneath the rubbish.

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Let’s go back in time. The promenade was built 1852-54 as an exclusive riverside walk for residents who lived in the villas that once lined the Portsmouth Road. It was named after Queen Victoria who opened it in 1856 (there is plaque about this in the pavement at the top of the ramps) and there was once a fountain and bandstand. The caretaker of the promenade once worked out of the hut now used for our kitchen and tool store.

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Postcard showing Queen’s Promenade in the 1850s

The Queens Promenade now offers the opportunity of enjoying a relaxing riverside walk into Kingston with the elegant vista of the River Thames and benches along where you can enjoy the view. After the introduction of the super highway cycle lane along the Portsmouth Road in 2019, some of the riverside garden was lost. Some of this has now been uncovered and the garden has begun to share its’ history, offering up some expected and unexpected discoveries.

It is a challenging project; notice the changes in the before and after photos

Securing the old gardener’s hut from the elements was a priority, a sponsored new roof was installed to keep everything and everyone dry and warm, a new lavatory replaced the fifty year old one and then clearing the site began; wheelbarrows of soil and rubbish were taken away to make way for raised beds and water butts.

Following lots of local interest and social media we have been able to keep everyone up to date with the garden’s progress and we have been donated with much needed tools, plants and pots. You can follow us on Facebook / Instagram #queenspromenade

The Mayor came to visit us in May 2021 and opened the pocket park officially:

A wildlife haven on the Kingston reach of The Thames

Now we invite you to take a walk through the Pocket Park. See for yourself the reclaimed, repaired benches, the paving blocks, the dry stone wall and Victorian Barley twist edging, all found on site and upcycled to create and outline new flower beds.

The Victorian railings that we found and which once provided protection from the Portsmouth Road are now in situ in the garden as is the very special historic Royal Borough of Kingston post with its’ distinctive Three Salmon logo.

Explore the Stumpery and Loggery, created from up-ending logs into the ground and making an area which now encourages a new habitat for wildlife, particularly beetles.

A bug house, crafted from old pallets, allowing bugs & their larvae a new home. Look up for the bird feeder, bat box and bird nesting boxes.

Sit on the unique bench designed and built by one the volunteers from a disused wooden electric cable reel and a church pew. Find a mouse!

Then exit the pocket park past the magnificent oak tree and the restored Victorian viewing platform to follow the winding woodchip paths around River View Garden. This is another area that has been renovated with grassy areas to lie on, flower beds to attract pollinators and a mixed 30 metre hedge line to reduce traffic pollution and visually soften the concrete foundations of Portsmouth Road.

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‘It’s not just the creation of a pocket park but a green space for nurturing community spirit and mindfulness’ Julian Meers, Chair

In conclusion

The making of the pocket park has succeeded on many levels for the volunteers who vary in age from their twenties to seventies. They enjoy the company of each other while creating something new and green. The group embraces a mix of mindfulness and learning new tasks eg many volunteers had never constructed a path, restored heritage fencing or even thought about a planting plan. The Friends are in this project together and enjoy the stimulating challenges that a volunteer day brings them; everyone learns from each other.

The outcomes have been significant. There tends to be a loyal group who attend volunteer days and others less so but still like to follow developments anyway. An area that was never utilised before is now used regularly by The Friends who welcome all visitors. For the first time in decades flowers are blooming on the site and biodiversity is a key ingredient of the pocket park and River View Garden.

We hope you’ve liked what you’ve seen and will visit us again soon.

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Tulip Chair – Illustration by Lisa Tolley

Sarah Searle, Outreach Coordinator Julian Meers, Chair