‘the ache garden’: the centre for a community

Paxton Green Time Bank, (PGTB) based at Kingswood House in Southwark, has been awarded £4000 from the Bromley Community Projects Fund to create ‘the ache garden’ in Crystal Palace Park.


A.C.H.E .stands for Anerley Community Heritage Education and we all ache for peace, both on a personal and global scale. The project was chosen for its encouragement of inter-generational volunteering, which is what time banking is about: valuing people’s time and skills as assets. An alternative to money, it builds community and good community feeling.

Woodcarver and PGTB member Jenny Jones, who lives in Anerley, identified an under-used area of the park by Canada Gates on the Anerley side that needed a ‘makeover’. Research into the gates, linked them to the Crystal Palace’s ‘Festival of Empire’ in 1911, which featured facsimiles of colonial buildings and they were where “Canada” stood. Melvyn Harrison of the Crystal Palace Foundation, told her how there had been a camp of incarcerated French sailors there and WW2 bombings nearby. Jenny sensed a need for some sort of healing reconciliation for this space, which is situated by the entrance road to the National Sports Centre, 100m from Crystal Palace Station.

island bed close up

Its beautiful trees have powerful meanings in tree lore: a weeping ash, pines, two yews, elder and holly, recall the park’s Celtic origins as Penge Common. Penge means “head of the wood”.  Jenny proposed they create a ‘turf labyrinth’, based on ancient earthworks that may be found in: Britain, Greece, Native North and South American cultures, Scandinavia, Egypt, India, Nepal, Tibet, Java, Sumatra and even the legendary ‘lost city of Lemuria’! Her aim was to create a space where people could ‘walk the labyrinth’ and sit in peace to enjoy the trees, on wooden benches hand carved by local woodcarvers Jenny Jones, Sarah Pollard and Dorothy Love.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has one, unambiguous route to the centre and back. Unicursal patterns such as this have been used throughout history, for group rituals and private meditation and  have been of therapeutic use in hospitals and hospices. The word labyrinth stems from ‘labrys’ a double edged axe; a symbol of royal power and of creation. In medieval times, a turf labyrinth was a cheaper alternative to a pilgrimage!

best labyrinth pic ever

After consulting with PGTB members, the idea arose to coproduce a ‘community heritage peace garden’ incorporating a herb garden, scrap sculptures and a place for children to play. Interestingly, the game of ‘hopscotch’ originates from the ancient game of ‘Nine Men’s Morris’; itself a derivative of the labyrinth.

With gardening workshops facilitated by Jenny Jones and Fabienne Khial and drama sessions with Karen Lath, what has been created, (clocking up over 300 time bank volunteering hours!) is original, eco-friendly and biodiverse. Volunteers are digging a turf labyrinth with a ‘river of pebbles’ and have planted up island beds of salvaged, recycled containers. Taking their cue from the Crystal Palace Exhibition, the community garden has imported plants from all over the  world in suitcases, pull-a long trolleys and crates. More visitors have arrived in the form of  butterflies, bees, wasps, hoverflies and bats!

jan and sign

Back in April, PGTB members visited Capel Manor’s garden design students who  offered ideas for bug hotels, meadow planting and hassle-free watering systems. The Arboricultural Department kindly helped with Cypressus Leylandii logs for benches from trees cut down for a new skatepark. The Landscape Group (TLG) generously supply us with green waste and GLL are allowing us to use their tap: a great example of organisations working together!

Volunteer and teacher Pam Barnes, who works at RIET (Re-integration into Education) has been a constant in the garden: watering, donating materials and creating (with the schoolchildren) a scarecrow representing Jessica Ennis & “Team GB”, which has caused many passers-by to look twice and investigate the garden!  Andrew helps with heavy lifting and with the help of our local Tesco’s cage trolley, has literally pushed fruit trees up Anerley Road! David, a geologist, has worked tirelessly, digging out the lines of the labyrinth.

david and hoe

The garden has grown steadily with increasing interest from local residents, who have begun to offer ideas, help, plants and containers. We have met some fascinating people: one local resident, Chris, meditates on labyrinths and Ted calls himself the “ivy vigilante” freeing trees susceptible to damage. Several families have planted and dug with the time bank and Celia, Dorothy, Jack and Harold have offered plants, garden hose, tools and metal objects for wind chimes we plan to make.

You are welcome to join us on our planting days: 2.30-4.30pm on Saturday 13th August, Thursday 25th August and Saturday 3rd September. Our “grand garden party opening” is on Saturday September 17th at 2.30pm. Please follow and like ‘the ache garden’ on facebook, twitter and tumblr.

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