My friend Andy Newman, who has died aged 56, was a community leader who built an award-winning public garden on disused land. From those green shoots he and his partner, Karen Clark, galvanised local people in the network of north London roads known as Harringay Gardens to fight back against pollution, traffic and urban blight, bringing greenery and cooperation to our neighbourhood.
In 1996, when Andy and Karen moved to the area, there was on their doorstep a derelict patch of land leading to a railway arch. Once an entrance to the now-demolished Harringay stadium on the other side of the tracks, the land had become a dumping ground for old cars and other rubbish, and a crime hotspot.
Andy later recalled meeting an elderly neighbour who had “peered out of her bedroom window as a young girl and watched cows being herded under the railway arch to graze at the local watercress farm … We had just started a young family and this image gave us the determination to bring the land back into natural use.”
That is exactly what Andy and Karen, both keen gardeners, did, with trademark tenacity and wiliness, plus a package of government funding channelled into the wider area, which at the time had seen a startling increase in gang violence.
Vital to the garden’s success was the simultaneous formation of a community group, the Gardens Residents Association, which began transforming the streets through the planting of trees, initiatives to curtail fly-tipping and crime, and the reduction of heavy traffic which had long blighted the area. Six roads became what would these days be termed a low traffic neighbourhood, provoking, then as now, polarising and powerful opinions. The effect was instant – without thousands of cars a day cutting through, a shortcut became a community again, almost overnight.
In 2002, thanks to Andy, it got a community centre to call its own – albeit one without a roof. The community garden remains a moment of beauty and respite in a dense urban environment, stocked with fabulous plants now in their prime – including several of Andy’s much-favoured giant echium.
The garden, which raises all its own funds, hosts outdoor film screenings, Halloween events, egg hunts and Christmas gatherings. It has spawned a successful “play streets” initiative, and many other family- and nature-focused events. It has stretched out its roots into the local streets for two decades; trees, bulbs and shrubs flourish where once there were none. The garden is open to everyone and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in September.
The association has been no less successful, winning more than 40 local and national awards. Both residents’ association and garden were turbo-charged by Andy’s knowledge, hard work and resilience. His legacy is all around his friends and neighbours, and will not be forgotten.
Andy was born in Exeter, Devon, the youngest of three sons of Irene (nee Pye), a care assistant, and Lewis, a shoemaker. After leaving Clyst Vale community college, he studied interior design at South Devon College of Arts and Technology, and 3D design at Suffolk College of Higher and Further Education. He was a freelance artist and designer for most of his working life until joining Southwark council in 2013.
He is survived by Karen and their children, Amber and Jasper, and by his brother Peter. Another brother, David, predeceased him.