Fiona O’Brien speaks to Bernie Fitzpatrick, a Cavan construction worker, who has brought together his diverse north west London community through gardening.
A group of green-fingered Dollis Hill residents, led by a Cavan construction worker, are on their way to Wembley to celebrate with the Mayoress of Brent, having won a prestigious community and gardening award. The residents of Campbell Gordon Way have joined forces to improve the appearance of their neighbourhood and in turn have improved relationships within the community.
They have now won five stars, the top award, in this year’s London in Bloom competition and have claimed the It’s Your Neighbourhood award, marking them as the best neighbourhood in Brent.
Bernard Fitzpatrick, who has lived in Campbell Gordon Way with his wife Anita for the past 21 years, has only got five years experience of gardening having taken it up at the height of the recession.
“I was working on the Olympics, but when my job finished in 2010 the recession had hit. I was used to working seven days a week, but was cut down to five.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself, I’m always on the go, always active. I thought about taking up golf, but that wouldn’t suit me, and then eventually I ran out of DIY jobs.. there’s only so much you can do around the house!”
Community in Bloom – Five Stars
Bernie began by making his own garden his pride and joy, tidying it up and planting flowers here and there.
“Then all of a sudden I was getting compliments from the neighbours because they liked how it looked, and they asked me if I could help them. I had no real gardening experience, but was just giving it a go, and I have learnt so much in this time. “I’d just tell them to go away and get their own plants and I would help them plant and water them.” That was the start of what has become a huge community effort.
Now Bernie is joined by a team of 20 volunteers and 10 children who work flat out from May to September to ensure they keep the five star award they win from the prestigious competition. And, they were awarded almost immediately, winning a host of horticultural prizes since then.
“This is our fourth year into London in Bloom – the first year in we went straight in with four stars. Last year we got five stars, but we are so proud to have regained that title here now again,” says Bernard. And it is a project which Bernard has seen has done a lot more than just improve the area’s appearance. Bernard, a Brent Community Champions Award recipient, has seen a remarkable change in the relationships between the neighbours since they have worked together to make it greener.
“It’s got our multicultural neighbourhood a lot closer now. We’ve got people from all over the world and before hardly anyone talked to each other, but now it’s a lovely community, everyone’s really friendly, everyone’s getting on. “We have Easter egg hunts for the kids, where all the kids from all different nationalities come out and get involved.
“We also do other things throughout the year, like trick or treating at Halloween which is all taken into consideration for the neighbourhood award.
“It’s great. Last year the residents voted me in to become a Brent Community Champion last year and I was well chuffed with that.” But with such great work already achieved, the neighbours have their work cut out in maintaining standards to keep them at five star level. “I was just dead pleased with the comments from the judges this year, especially as they know just what they’re talking about.”
The official response from the judging panel read: ” A wonderful example of a community working together. The involvement of children in all aspects of gardening and events was very commendable.
“It is a major achievement in transforming the complex over the past 5 years by Bernard and his committee.”
This year, they were the only community in the borough of Brent to get short-listed on the five star list at all, and improved on their scores from last year due to the involvement of the whole community.
“The judges make sure that it’s a group effort. For example last year we started up doing vegetable patches, and although they come down and have a look, they’re not exactly looking for award-winning potatoes or pumpkins or anything.
“But because we have each plot personalised for each house, the judges can see clearly that it is a huge effort across the board.”
And they are also impressed by the eco-friendly way the community do their gardening.
“We kind of collect the rainwater that falls and then that gets recycled into the plants again.
“It’s one of the ways that we work with local community groups and things, and we just want to continue to improve and work together.
“It helps everything. Because the place looks nice, people have more pride in the area. I’m also in Neighbourhood Watch, so I talk to the local police officers and attend meetings quite frequently, but they tell us that there’s never really any trouble around our way.
“I think when people come in and see that it is well looked after then it deters them from just hanging around. And because we all know each other here now you can tell when there is a stranger, and we just approach them to see what they are doing. There’s never any crime here.”
Bernard also wishes to pay tribute to his neighbour Jerry Tighe, a Lietrim native, who despite renting his property has been instrumental in the community’s success.
“He has been my right hand man since moving into Campbell Gordon way in 2013, and has been a big help in achieving the 5 stars.”
‘Uncle Bernie’ is really looking forward to the formal event at the Brent Civic Centre for him and his group of volunteers to mark their hard work.
“It just goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it and work together what you can do. We love celebrating together, and this is a nice way to mark the achievement this year.”
Bernard would also like to thank the following members of his team; Anita, Ann, Rachel, Barry, Lucy, Martin, Lucyna, Tom, Hubert, Rizwana, Akhmad, Ismaeel, Ibrahim, Maheen, Sheyma, Huthaifah, Musa, Harun, Yusuf, Bridie, Jack, Maryam, Hamied, Beckham, Bella, Bosco, Baxter, Bosco’s mum, Marylyn, Roger, Gabriel, Emma, Micheal, Osabn, Hamied, Ali, Michelle, Alan, Selma, Cynthia, Shane, Ronin, Veronica, Loana and Norma.
“I would also would like to say thanks to the Directors of Residents Association ,Paddy Walsh at Buxted Constructions,Area Manager for Veolia Eugene Buckley,M.C.S. Managing agent,Aztec Maintenance,Ann & Martin Brent Neighbourhood watch,Miles & staff at Window Flowers,Anne & staff at London in bloom,Sergeant Bryan Wappat P.C ClaireLeach & PCSO Edward Oniba,at S.N.P. Dollis Hill,Cllr Parvez Ahmed Liz Dixon Arshad Mahmood and former Cllr Alison Hopkins for their continued support.”