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Rob Greig

A day in the life of London’s parks

As London becomes the world’s first National Park City, we document a day in the life of the parks that Londoners love

By Angela Hui and Annie Lord
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From hidden green spaces to the city’s major parks, London is full of amazing leafy locales. And the city’s parks are where you’ll find most Londoners once the sun comes out, which is why we spent the first sunny Saturday of the year hanging out in some of London’s most loved verdant places. From dawn until dusk, we chatted to people in Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common, Hyde Park, Holland Park and London Fields, meeting everyone from joggers to hen parties.

Arthur Comely

7.06am: The skater

Mark, Clapham Common

‘I come here early on weekends so I can skate when no-one else is around. From about 10am there are lots of kids on scooters – it can get quite annoying. When you’re here this early the sky can be beautiful – it’s got that pinky orange glow when the sun comes up. There are other parks near me but this is my favourite for skating; there are rails, ledges, corners and the ground is pretty good too.’

Arthur Comely

8.20am: The dog walker

Michael, Clapham Common

‘Why do people come to the park if they don’t like dogs? So many people get scared of Zadie. I don’t know why – she’s a pussycat. When I got her she was loony. She wasn’t used to London traffic, as she’s a rescue dog from Worcester. Once she ran away for two-and-a-half miles. Thankfully the police found her in 30 minutes. It’s good to come to tranquil places like this to calm her down.’

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Arthur Comely

10.13am: The football coach

Suresh, Clapham Common

‘I run a women’s football group here. There is something therapeutic about kicking a ball around in a park, perhaps because it’s what we did when we were kids? The weirdest thing I have seen here was when I saw an old lady jump into the pond to save someone else’s dog. She got it out and then just went for a swim afterwards.’

Arthur Comely

10.30am: The all-nighter

Paul, Clapham Common

‘I slept on my porch last night because I forgot my keys and my flatmate didn’t wake up when I knocked on the door. I’m feeling really sore this morning. Normally when I’m in the park I’m in fresh clothes and I don’t look so tired. I sometimes come here to work, to draw illustrations and sketches.’

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Arthur Comely

11.46am: The daters

Link (right), Holland Park

‘We’re on a date. We wanted to come somewhere quiet and the Kyoto Garden is tranquil and between where we live. I like that there are walkways so you can’t mess up the wildlife. Parks can be boring – just big expanses of green – but in London there’s more to see. We just saw a man who said he was off to feed the fish and then he just walked off with his fish food into the trees.’

Arthur Comely

11.55am: The veterans

Sandra (left), Holland Park

‘I used to come here in the ’50s when there were weeds and potholes everywhere. It was so smoggy that if you wore a white top it would be filthy by the time you got home. I suppose the money wasn’t there back then for cultivating gardens. You see lots of young people here. We live in Sidmouth in Devon and everywhere you go – no disrespect to anyone – but there are wheelchairs, walking sticks, zimmer frames. Here it’s much more balanced. And sometimes it feels as though there’s more country space up here than we have in Devon.’

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Arthur Comely

12.11pm: The boxers

Genti (right), Holland Park

‘We became friends when we escaped from the Kosovan war. We come to this park to exercise because it makes a change from the gym. We watch boxing a lot. I think we might be getting a bit too excited – I reckon one of us is the next Anthony Joshua. We could do some white-collar boxing but we wouldn’t want to be fighting those City boys, you know? My housing estate block is so dark it’s like a prison. I come here for some light.’

Arthur Comely

1.33pm: The runner

Mario, Hyde Park

‘I come to the park to run or to play with my kids. We live in a flat where there is limited space so I try to tire them out so they can have a good night’s sleep. We are not from the UK – we arrived a year ago – so this is one of the ways the family can see different parts of London. I think it’s funny that English people sunbathe in the park, in Chile we just go to the beach or swimming pools. I like to run without headphones so I can hear all the noises of the park, the barbeques, the games of rounders, people laughing. Sometimes I think we shut ourselves off from the world when we put headphones in.’

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Arthur Comely

1.48pm: The picnickers

Tasha and Dallan, Hyde Park

Tasha ‘In our picnic we have strawberries, cheese, bread, ham, salad, houmous and champagne. We’ve refined our picnic technique over the years – it’s best to precut strawberries and bread and to bring cutlery. I love it when dogs come over to us but we can’t feed them in case the owners get annoyed. I like this bit of Hyde Park near the Italian gardens, but the area around the lake is lovely too.’

Rob Greig

3.29pm: The swimmers

Simon (left), Hampstead Heath

‘We’ve been to the ponds for a swim. I like Hampstead Heath because all the other parks in London are so similar. Here, there are inclines and different terrains – it’s more mysterious. I feel like I’m on safari whenever I come here and lie in the tall grass because you can see people’s heads popping up like lions.’

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Rob Greig

3.44pm: The family outing

Max (far right) and Robert (left, second in), Hampstead Heath

Max ‘We don’t have a garden, so we make the most of London’s green spaces. We bring the whole family to catch up in the park. We all live in different parts of London and come together to meet here. Hampstead Heath is one of our favourites because it’s a bit more chilled out and less touristy than other London parks. We take the dogs for a walk, have a chilled picnic and then usually end up in the pub.’

Robert ‘We visit pretty much every week. It’s beautiful and one of London’s greatest resources. It doesn’t feel like you’re in London, it’s a great little escape but you don’t have to trek too far. London’s parks are more accessible than the countryside because everybody owns it. Here, it’s owned by the City of London – it’s extraordinary that this is open to all.’

Rob Greig

4.36pm: The hen do

Clarissa (far right), Parliament Hill

‘None of us have been here before. We’re from Paris for a hen party. We’re happy taking in the view and enjoying the sun. You definitely don’t get this in Paris. It’s more scenic here and there’s a different atmosphere. A lot of people in London seem to really enjoy their parks. In Paris people don’t really sit down like they do here – it’s more of a place to walk through.’

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Rob Greig

6.40pm: The tennis players

Merrin (far left), Brittany (far right), London Fields

Merrin ‘We’re in our tennis whites because it’s the first day of summer. Plus, we’re all Australian and we tend to do crazy things. We’ve just had a tennis tournament.’

Brittany ‘It’s the first day of sun so we thought: How do we make the most of it? Let’s all dress up as tennis stars and see how fast we can get the kits from Amazon. And here we are, drinking Pimm’s out of  trophies.’

Rob Greig

7.07pm: The party starters

Allie (left) and Rachna, London Fields

Allie: ‘It’s a sunny day, our friend Sarah has sold her flat and she’s moving out of London. So we’re starting off the big farewell party in the park, then moving to her flat to say one final goodbye! She lives just around the corner, off Brick Lane.’

Rachna: ‘I live in a tower block in Bethnal Green with
no outside space, so having a park just melts it away
a little bit.’

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Rob Greig

7.21pm: The slackliner

Felix, London Fields

‘It’s a chilled vibe at London Fields – everyone’s friendly and when the sun’s out everyone’s a lot happier. I came to the park with my two flatmates, who seem to have wandered off somewhere. I brought along my slackline [a tightrope] – it attracts people who are curious to try it out. I actually don’t know any of these people who are on the slackline now. I don’t mind when people want to give it a go: it’s interesting to teach others. That’s why I love slacklining – it’s such a welcoming thing to do together.’

Rob Greig

8.36pm: The thrifter

Aniello, London Fields

‘My friend just found this lantern in the street. She picked it up for me because she knows I love this kind of stuff. It’s actually in really good condition. It’s beautiful. I’m going to hang it in my room. I’m glad she found it otherwise it would’ve gone into landfill! We love London Fields – there are loads of local pubs nearby you can head to afterwards. We’re just about to leave, but don’t know what we’re doing yet. We saw some guys going to a rave, so we might join them. Who knows where the night will take us…’

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