Something interesting is happening in Highams Park. This corner of Waltham Forest – the bit between Walthamstow and Chingford- suddenly seems to be punching above its weight. When, last summer, the local authority introduced a ‘place brand’, drawing attention to Waltham Forest’s four ‘most recognisable’ areas (Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton, and Leytonstone), social media were soon alive with aggrieved comments from people who felt their area was equally deserving of being highlighted. Last July’s Highams Park Day – a fixture in the area for several years, seemed to take this community festival to another level, with stalls from local artists and craftspeople joining the line up for the first time. A few weeks ago, with memories of summer holidays rapidly fading, several hundred people spent a beautiful Indian Summer’s Sunday afternoon in the Highams Park for the first Picnic in the Park, and were entertained by a Jazz trio, welly wanging competition, a treasure hunt, and other family friendly entertainments.
Art from the park – Highams Park Day 2014
I’m not suggesting that this sort of community spirit wasn’t present before, but it certainly feels as though it has stepped up a gear this year. And there is a reason. Several times a week – in venues across the area – upstairs in the county arms, in the newly refurbished Royal Oak, or in one of the many independent cafes – groups of local residents can be found deep in conversation, poring over lists of ideas and actions. These ‘topic working groups’ are working on ideas submitted for the first Highams Park Local Area Plan. ‘The Plan’ will be the formal outcome of the Highams Park Planning Group, which has now been recognised by the Local Authority, and is putting into practice the principles of 2012s Localism Act to give local communities the opportunity to influence the decision making which affects the future of their areas. This process is well underway, and the final plan should see local people’s views on planning decisions having much more weight in the future.
The content of the formal plan, and the impact it has on local authority decisions remains to be seen, but we are already beginning to see what may prove to be the most positive impacts of this project. Through wide and inclusive consultation, and the opportunity for anybody to be involved in the working groups, people are talking to each other. When people talk to each other, things start to happen, people make connections, and start to work together to make positive changes for their area. There are Topic Working Groups looking at everything from Heritage, Sports and Leisure, Shops and Retail and Transport, and I am sure they will all be making major contributions to the formal plan as well as implementing things that can be achieved in the more immediate term. I’ve been sitting on the Arts and Culture Group – there’s exciting things on the horizon, some of which will need major investment or strategic input, but already group members have started the monthly Highams Park Live nights, put together the ‘Art from the Park Stall’ at Highams Park Day, initiated the Little free Libraries for Highams Park project and much more besides. I’ll try to kickstart this blog at this exciting time to keep a record of all these projects, as well as the more general developments that the Local Area Plan brings to our special community on the edge of London.
To find out more about the Highams Park Planning Group and its topic working groups see: http://highamsparkplan.org/
ARC – Highams Park Plan Arts and Culture Topic Working Group – Facebook Page
A brief summary of the Localism Act: