Since June 2009, a remarkable group of people have been acting as caretakers of a patch of derelict land sandwiched between Kew Bridge, the A315 into central London and the Thames.
This is a busy, congested and built up corner of west London where available land is at a premium, and this site had lain empty and unused for several decades before the eco-villagers moved in last summer.
Now it is a thriving example of sustainable living, as well as being community garden project and home to a fascinating array of plants and wildlife – the latest in a long line of different functions.
The site has always been much more than just a piece of wasteland; it actually has a long history, probably dating back at least as far as the Bronze Age, and mainly because of its central position between the river and a main road. The A315 has long been an central route in to and out of London – it is built over a Roman road and was later also an important coaching route.
There had also been a ferry (and later a bridge) at Kew since at least the 17th century. You can thus easily see how the centrality of the site to river crossings and main roads would make it a logical plot of land to locate a business or build other property, and how this would eventually give it an element of historical significance.
And there is actually evidence of such businesses and properties: it is known that there were 18th century brick kilns on the eco-village site, as well as later pubs, houses and, latterly, office buildings. Known locally as the ‘Scottish Widows site’, it was home to that financial company’s HQ and a pub until both buildings were demolished some twenty-odd years ago.
Boarded up and rapidly becoming derelict, the land was eventually bought by the developers St George. However, mostly due to persistent local opposition to their plans, permission was repeatedly refused for redevelopment by Hounslow Council and the land remained empty and unused for decades. The recent presence of the eco-village on the site demonstrated how such land could be used positively and to everyone’s benefit, but to no avail.
Despite continuing objections, the final decision was taken on February 17th 2010, when the council Sustainable Development Committee voted to grant St George planning permission for the site. The eco-villagers tell me that the developers have yet to contact them, so there is (as of this writing) no indication as to when the site will be reclaimed for construction.
However, the plan is for the eco-village to remain on the land for as long as it sits empty – the villagers describe themselves as caretakers of the land; making sure it is a safe site that can, for now at least, continue to be used by locals and families of all ages. They are also looking at possible new sites where this good work can be continued after they have to leave Kew Bridge.
I’ll miss the eco-village when it has to go; it has achieved so much in the short time it has been there, opening so many eyes and minds to a different and more sustainable life as well as giving an urban population the opportunity to reconnect with the earth on a very basic, very necessary level. I look forward to seeing what the villagers will do next!
If you’d like to show your support for the eco-villagers, you can get more information about what they’re up to on their Facebook group – feel free to join the group for updates and info about the many events and workshops they put on.
Amongst other things, the villagers recently held a very successful seed swap event, which involved many Brentford and Kew locals – including some new faces from local allotments – and will be celebrating the Spring Equinox this coming Saturday (March 20th 2010).
The eco-villagers also tweet occasionally, and you can follow them on Twitter here.
Visitors to the site are welcomed (I was given a slice of delicious chocolate cake on my first visit; sadly, I can’t guarantee that for everyone!); you can find details of the eco-village opening hours and weekly activities at the Facebook group.
The eco-villagers also tell me that they are always in need of donations of manure, topsoil, compost and seeds to be planted out on the site. If you can help them with any of these, or just want to pay them a visit (or perhaps send a postcard), come along/send stuff to:
Kew Bridge Eco-Village
2 Kew Bridge Rd
(For those on public transport, Kew Bridge station is opposite the site, and a number of buses (including the 237, 267 and 65) stop right outside)
Apologies to the eco-villagers for the poor quality of some of these photographs (they’re all off a cameraphone), and for the delay in getting them up!
NB: Click for a larger view of each image.