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Loyle Carner: ‘Having access to green space should be a human right’

The south London artist explains why all Londoners need a local green space – and how urban gardening could help make that a reality

Written by
Time Out London contributor

The term is ‘urban greening’ but really it’s just ‘greening’. It’s taking a place that’s grey and making it green, taking a place that’s been unloved and planting life into it – giving the local community something to feel pride in. It could be anywhere: somebody’s balcony, the roof of an estate, the back of a school.

I think having access to green space should be a human right. If you live in an estate on top of six family members and you don’t get that time to look after your mental health, then it’s going to drastically affect the way you move forward.

I grew up in Croydon and it was quite green where I was, but if you went into the centre, it was all grey. Where I went to school was all grey. My mum helped me understand the correlation between being outside and feeling good.

 Bárbara Malagoli, urban greening
Illustration: Bárbara Malagoli

It’s always something I’ve been interested in, so I put a message out on Twitter and said: I want to do some urban greening, where do you think needs it? I wanted to do it in south London. I felt it was important to focus on the area I grew up in. People sent over loads of places and one of them was Thornton Heath. I used to go to the leisure centre there, so I knew it well. It was super-grey.

We got the local community involved and built planters and filled them with herbs, greens and trees. The biggest thing was showing people that if you could do it in the square then you could do it on your balcony or on your roof. We’ve had so many people saying: I really appreciate what you’re doing – the kind of people I wouldn’t expect, people who are a bit tougher on the outside. That’s the aim. We’re not trying to get Alan Titchmarsh fans to come down. It’s people who essentially don’t give a fuck about it, who all of a sudden will think: This is sick, I could do this.

My hope for the future is that more of these places pop up and for it to become cool. As soon as it’s fashionable, people are like: Oh yeah, I do gardening! That’s what I’m hoping for, that it becomes something the cool kids want to do.

Loyle Carner’s Thornton Heath project is part of Timberland’s Nature Needs Heroes campaign.

Want to get outside? Check out these hidden gardens and green spaces in London.

Or, go on one of London’s prettiest walks.

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