Residents’ fury over rejection of community café proposal at South Woodford park

South Woodford residents are furious a vacant site in the middle of their local park was given to a private nursery rather than a community café.

The bowling club in Elmhurst Gardens closed last November and a kGems nursery has since been picked to occupy the site for the next five years.

The company was chosen for the lease over proposals for a community café, after a process many angry residents insisted was unfair.

At a meeting on September 23, a petition signed by more than 1,600 people was presented to Redbridge Council calling on them to reconsider.

Local campaigner Kerry Oliver, 47, told councillors a private nursery business using the space was “regressive” and called for a business that would benefit the wider community. 

After the meeting, she questioned why locals hadn’t been consulted, calling the selection process “failed” and “inaccessible”.

She said: “We can’t understand why there is such determination [for a nursery]. We’re not going away, the council can’t afford to dismiss the whole situation. “

The lease was awarded by Vision, the organisation set up by the council to run its leisure and culture sites, in April.

Vision was impressed by kGem’s commitment to provide free childcare for two-year-olds from low-income families and its promise to give £1,000 a year to a refreshment kiosk in the park.

At the meeting, deputy leader Kam Rai told opposed residents the contract had already been reconsidered once in response to complaints it had been “poorly advertised” during lockdown.

He also offered to meet locals again to discuss a community space and promised another “independent review” of the decision.

A Redbridge Council spokesperson later said the selection process had been “robust” and that a nursery would provide “vital childcare for families for whom childcare would otherwise be simply unaffordable”.

They added: “Any additional funds raised through the scheme will go towards the maintenance and running of all the parks within the borough.”

In a written response to complaints from opposed campaigners, a Vision employee admitted it needs to trim £500,000 from its budget this year.

The group’s petition can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/vision-redbridge-elmhurst-for-everyone

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter