I have always thought of myself as someone fairly attuned to the struggles facing those less fortunate than me. I grew up in a working class area and at certain moments during my upbringing money was a little bit tight. Even to this day I am still racked with guilt by my tantrum over not getting a Mega Drive console for Christmas 1992. However this year the illusion I had built up that I’m truly in touch with the most needy in society has been well and truly been shattered. I short, I now realise; I am a lucky boy living a pretty privileged life. What has brought my privilege into sharp focus for me is my involvement with a new east London initiative called ‘The Momentum Project’.
Momentum aims to work with the local people initially in Newham to identify and implement projects. These range from cleaning up parks to training for green jobs, creating green cooperatives and business enterprises. All with the totally inspiring aim of building a radical, zero-carbon, community led future.
I have been involved on the periphery of this project since it’s inception. I have assisted in a number of ways from handing out flyers to assisting with digital elements of the project. So when last weekend rolled around, I couldn’t wait to get started. The project partnered with Lush Cosmetics and community organisers from Brazil to turn the community of the Royal Docks dream into a reality, the whole weekend was called the ‘Oasis Games’. At a public meeting the community decided they wanted to transform the neglected and honestly quite depressing garden at ASTA community centre; into an open space with a beautiful garden, pizza oven, sandpit and most impressively a performance stage.
When I turned up on Saturday morning I honestly felt a bit daunted by our challenge. The volunteers comprised of members of the local community, volunteers like me who have been involved with the project, Lush staff and most importantly the kids from the local area. Their enthusiasm and creative thinking was truly inspiring. They were able to see solutions and opportunities where us adults could not. This wasn’t just wasn’t restricted to gardening knowledge; throughout the weekend I even picked up some dating advice from young Joshua.
I found the whole experience of the weekend really fantastic and I was totally inspired by the other volunteers and young people. The local community and businesses supported the project throughout the weekend providing tool loans, free plants and my friend Juliet even managed to forage some wild rocket, which was truly sensational in taste.
I did lots of work in creating the new garden, I even had bruised hands from the digging at the end of the day. I was happy that I remembered quite a few gardening tips my Nan taught me over the years. It was lovely to share these with the kids who hadn’t ever planted a bulb. Especially as my Nan now has dementia and can no longer remember her gardening knowledge. I also really enjoyed painting and I taught one of the kids the E,A,G chords on guitar.
A pretty frantic afternoon on the Sunday saw us complete the project on time. The garden really looked wonderful and the stage that had been created out of old laminate flooring was a great achievement. I especially loved the old crates which some of the volunteers turned into amazing benches. To celebrate the new garden the kids along Amina one of the volunteers rewrote the song ‘Empire State of Mind’. The piano acquired off Freecycle was brought onto the street where the kids performed the song. They switched the original song words from ‘New York’ to ‘Newham’. We all watched in amazement as these young people played, sung and rapped their hearts out. They were amazing and the adults helped out with signing the chorus. I honestly felt so proud of my friends, people and I had just met and the kids, who in two days created this amazing new space for the community.
When the piano arrived:
After last weekend I can’t wait for the next stage of the Momentum Project. There are ambitions to turn East London into a hub for green technology projects and the area has been given Enterprise Zone status. I hope that Momentum can help harness the community energy existing in Newham and help kick start a movement of green co-ops and green jobs training programmes for local people.
Since the closing of the Docklands in the 1980’s, the needs of the local community in the Royal Docks and throughout most of Newham have been ignored. City Airport is perhaps the biggest symbol of this. The residents of the Royal Docks are constantly blighted by the horrific noise and air pollution associated with the airport. I was shocked with the noise levels and at one point 5 planes took off in a 30 minute period. Why an airport that only serves the richest in society is situated in the second poorest borough in London feels bizarre to me and frankly unfair. There is a great campaign to Stop City Airport I urge you all to get in touch with them.
But after last weekend, I feel really confident that the people of Newham are no longer going to tolerate politicians ignoring them. Hopefully the Momentum Project will continue to gather pace and local communities unite to create green community spaces and business projects.
Last Sunday, as we stood outside the community centre and listened to the kids sing “In Newham, the concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh there’s nothing you can’t do” anything felt possible. It really reaffirmed my belief in the potential to create low carbon green communities throughout the UK. Doing this won’t be easy and it will take people from all walks of life to come together and share skills. It is a big challenge but one I know that by working with each other in communities across the UK we can achieve.
Visit the Momentum Project and find out how you can get involved with the creating low carbon communities.