‘A park for ev­ery­one to en­joy has be­come my pas­sion’

Prima (UK) - - Women Like You -

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!

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