An urban oasis, renovated with public funds, smack dab in the middle of the poorest ward of London’s richest borough, closed to the public for 15 years?  The saga of the grotto at Lisson Grove says a lot about how determined individuals can effect remarkable change … and how easily those gains are lost.

Steven Crisp, Head Gardener at the U.S. Embassy’s Winfield House — and then resident at Wharncliffe Gardens nearby —  began lobbying in 2002 for City of Westminster officials to invest in what he described as “the Borough’s most neglected park.”  Councillor Gwyneth Hampson spearheaded a £250,000 renovation that was completed in 2006.  It was quite extravagant with seating, rain harvesting and planters that show high standards of craftsmanship.  Seven brick-lined undercrofts, formerly used to store coal for the power plant that occasioned construction of the wharf, were cleaned out.  Access was provided through the building and from the street by a gate on Edgeware Road.  Church Street Ward had a pocket park that was as fine and peaceful a retreat as any of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.

And then the park was shuttered.  Fifteen years later no one recalls the specifics, other than references to problems with “anti-social behaviour.”  Whether that was a couple of incidents of rough sleepers claiming the space or something worse, enquiries with the Borough reveal little institutional memory.

Our application to the Canal and River Trust to establish a permanent mooring on the site has been more promising.  They say they support it in principle, pending approval of the Westminster Adult Education Center Facilities Manager.  We’re currently seeking funds to initiate a campaign among local residents to bring the necessary pressure on borough officials to make the site available to the public again.