The idea of doing everything all at once all the time sounds crazy, impossible even but it is the mantra that underpins the work and the ambition of East Marsh United. There are many examples of projects that cover a particular area such as housing, or health or education. Those projects do great work and they are important. The problem is that the East Marsh is suffering from the effects of too many problems across all areas of life, and all of the consequences of those problems crossover and have an impact. Housing impacts health which impacts education which impacts work which impacts aspiration. Tackling one of these issues literally means tackling all of them.
This leads me to talk about the environment, the physical place where we live. When we discuss the East Marsh, we automatically assume that we are talking about this:
We are all too familiar with the hard concrete streets, the filthy wheelie bins, fly tipping, dog mess, boarded up houses. This is the narrative that we know and it is of course central to the work that is being done. EMU is tackling the mess, the neglect, the attitude and behaviour of slum lords who have allowed the houses to fall into such disrepair, through targeted project work. The East Marsh Construction CIC is tackling work by employing local people to work on improving housing, to undertake repairs and maintenance. This work is happening slowly and it will build.
There is however, another side to the East Marsh; a side that is hidden behind the houses, visible to the residents when they open their back doors and look out. It might come as a surprise to see the view from our backyard, but here it is:
We have grand, old trees, a skyline that is not just brick and concrete. It is green and verdant. There are many varieties of birds – not just seagulls – even bats at dusk. It is a pleasure to watch the trees as they traverse the seasons, moving from their skeletal frames in winter to their rich greens in high summer and their warm reds and browns in autumn. It is comforting to listen to the wind blow through leaves on blustery days and to hear the songs of blackbirds, finches, starlings and sparrows.
Now, let’s imagine that we could take some of what is at the back of our houses and apply it to the front, to the streets. Let’s re-imagine street architecture to involve trees, bushes, planters. And let’s go even further. Let’s reduce traffic, let’s find a 20th century solution for those stinking wheelie bins, let’s have a play area for our kids and benches for us to sit with our neighbours and have a chat and a catch up. In short, let’s build a safer, greener, softer place for us all to live.
How hard can it be? We have a government in power that wants to level up. There is money to do this. Here on the East Marsh we have a vision. We can imagine our community as a village, a place where people can live, work, go to school, get together safely under the shade of trees, on pleasant streets where neighbours sit together watching the kids play over a brew and a biscuit.
We know this can be done, because it has been done elsewhere. What we need is to imagine it, plan it and do it.
It is already starting. I am watching with great interest the transformation of the Wellspring Academy on Harold Street. Wooden cladding, flower beds and grassy areas have all appeared this summer. Someone imagined that, planned it and made it happen. The kids returning to school in September will be welcomed into a softer, kinder, nicer place. It will have an impact on how they see the environment and their place in it.
East Marsh United is planning to undertake significant work in Grant Thorold Park and on the streets; we will remake our environment. We have imagined it, we are planning it, we will do it. But… we need help. We need friends, allies and doers to come and join us.
Recently, EMU tidied a garden up, cut back waste, sorted it out so the resident could feel supported and less worried about their outdoor space. Over a couple of hours, the crew worked, talked and imagined a better East Marsh. We looked at the trees, smelled the wild jasmine, and unearthed an old rose. We heard the birds – including our amazing seagulls and we really appreciated the environment. In a small but significant way, we showed what can be done.
Let’s make our village together, let’s remake our environment in the shape we want, and let’s make it green, healthy and beautiful.