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Green spaces in Bloomsbury

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The Insect Hotel in Russell Square

Volunteers planting bulbs in Russell Sqare

Green spaces in Bloomsbury

BRAG was one of the many community groups and associations that objected to the Evening Standard’s proposal to hold a Festival of Culture in Russell Square in June 2019, with the aim of attracting 50,000 attendees. It was to be a ticketed event, removing access to local residents from most of the open space for ten days. The community view was that it was far too large and long an event for the space, and would wreck the grass and landscaped Grade II listed square. Despite these objections, Camden’s Licensing Committee gave their approval.


In the end, the Evening Standard decided to cancel their application for use of space in Russell Square, citing opposition from local stakeholders, as well as the difficulty in securing full anticipated commercial sponsorship. But the licensing application was successful and there seemed to be little democratic control over commercial use of Camden’s green spaces.


Russell Square’s use is ultimately controlled by the Commissioners of Russell Square, who lease the square to Camden. They cannot object ‘unreasonably’, but a broad coalition of community groups objecting to the proposal enabled the Commissioners to object as well, along with Bedford Estates.

So the Evening Standard backed off.


Local green spaces are precious, especially in an inner city area like ours. One of the consequences of the Russell Square discussion has been more clarity about how Camden makes decisions about use of parks and gardens. It is important that the Parks and Gardens Department are involved at an early stage, to advise on potential damage and the likely repair measures needed.

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Backdrop to "Much Ado About Nothjing" at St George's Gardens in July

Parks and gardens have always been used for events and well-managed small scale events are an asset for the community. There will was an open air production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" in St George’s Gardens for a week in July.  The Open Iftar event at the south end of Tavistock Square during Ramadan covered the grass only during the evening event and the grass had daytime to recover. The Bloomsbury Festival also used green spaces appropriately in October.


What we don’t want is for Bloomsbury squares and gardens to be ‘fair game’ for anyone with a commercial aspiration, irrelevant of heritage, landscape quality or residential amenity. Here's a link to a very good Guardian article which describes the extent to which London councils are using parks for ticketed music festivals and other paid events to plug gaps in their budgets. Camden escapes a mention because the Russell Square event was dropped.


For news and information about Bloomsbury’s green spaces, follow the Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website to get their posts. The site also links you to the websites of individual Friends Groups - such as Friends of Tavistock Square and Friends of St George's Gardens (FoSSG) 


Even though the Open Garden Squares Weekend dropped St George's Gardens from their June Open Squares programme, defiantly, the Friends organised a fringe event to celebrate their trees, with Friends member, tree expert and artist Annette Freeman.  As part of the Bloomsbury Festival in October the Gardens hosted local artist Richard Sharples’ ‘Imagining Mountains’, an installation of illuminated sculpture, film and audio works made in collaboration with poet Joanna Clark, inspired by her poem ‘Her Dream”.

The Commissioners of Russell Square provided 10,000 bulbs that will flower from March to May next year to provide nectar for the insects that will be resident in the Insect Hotels.  The bulbs were planted and fencing erected by the Russell Square Volunteer Gardeners with the help of Goodgym. Fencing and squirrel protection were provided by Camden Council.


Russell Square Gardens are highly valued as a much-needed green lung in Bloomsbury for both local residents and visitors. We look forward to enjoying a carpet of wildflowers as a result of the recent planting.

We are reliably informed that spending at least 120 minutes a week in natural surroundings may be one factor in maintaining good health and wellbeing. But research led by the University of Exeter found that it was no good popping out for just 5 minutes in the week – the benefits only accrue after a good two hours enjoying what nature has to offer. However, visiting urban parks and gardens seems to count.  We are lucky to have so many parks and gardens in our neighbourhood –

so let’s make the most of them!

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