‘A park for everyone to enjoy has become my passion’
Toni Guiver, 61, lives in Enfield, north London, with husband Paul. She has two grown-up children.
‘Most days, I visit the beautiful park I’ve helped create just round the corner from my home. Sometimes I sit on one of the newly installed benches and watch the children playing; often I’ll have work to do planning the next phase. It’s fair to say it’s taken over my life, but when I see families walking in the woodland trails or strolling around the wetlands, I know that it’s all been worthwhile.
I first lived near Firs Farm in Enfield when my children were very young, and they’d play in the woods, coming home covered in mud but happy. After moving away, we returned to the area in 2013, and I was shocked to see the state of it. It was a muddy mess only being used by brave dog walkers. The woods that my children had played in were full of rubbish and fenced off.
It all seemed such a waste.
I started to think how wonderful it would be if the land was fit for the
whole community to use. Chatting to friends and neighbours, it seemed everyone agreed, so I started to put a few calls in to the council.
My husband Paul was so supportive, encouraging me as I hand-delivered thousands of letters to residents, knocking on dozens of doors and setting up a marquee in the fields for a consultation day. When it came to public speaking, I felt out of my comfort zone but, to my surprise, I was so passionate about the idea that I overcame my fear.
We set up a committee and applied for grants. Between the meetings, calls, letters, delays and disappointments, it took over my whole life. But with the end result in mind, I kept on going.
It was heart-warming to see the response. When I organised litter-picking days, dozens of people would arrive early in the morning to work; when we had to clear the woodland, dozens of families came to help. The community really wanted to get the project off the ground.
We put in a pond with a pond-dipping platform for the children, walkways through the woods and a wetland area for wildlife. Schoolchildren started having outdoor lessons there, and I was touched – and a little embarrassed – when neighbours surprised me by having the path named after me.
When the park opened last year, hundreds of people turned up. We had fairground rides and a tug-of-war. It was an amazing day and my heart was filled with pride to see so many people there.
Now I’m working on refurbishing the football changing rooms and trying to get funding for all-inclusive club rooms, so that those with Alzheimer’s and disabilities won’t be left out. It’s going to cost us a lot of money, but I know we will make it happen. I’ve learned that when a community comes together, it’s a power to be reckoned with.
So many people use the park now. The other day, I met a dad who was with his son, a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy. He told me how great it was that he could wheel his son around the wetlands on the walkways and enjoy the fresh air and open space together. I also met a man who told me he used to spend most of his days alone in his flat, but now he has the park to visit. “These days, people say hello to me and I don’t feel so lonely,” he told me. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.’
‘When a community comes together, it’s a power to be reckoned with’
From a muddy mess to beautiful wetlands
Toni even had a path named after her!