Guest Blog: 'Soundwalk' by Alison Whybrow

Soundwalk on the Cambridge Road Estate, curated by Alison Fure

I love the walks that Alison organises, I discover so much about the place I live. This one didn’t disappoint. About 20 of us assembled outside the cemetery gates wrapped up and ready to go, some from across London, mostly local. It was going to be a chilly evening. We took time to listen to the birds, Jackdaws, making a racket in a tree next to us, and notice the connections and avenues that the trees created both on and off the estate. The older the tree, the richer the biodiversity that it houses.

Walking with Alison is a different way to experience place. A deeper more personal way, seeing things I wouldn’t see and sharing knowledge that google wouldn’t know how to provide. With recorded snippets of sounds and stories of her own life there, Alison introduced us to the people, the place, and the wildlife. The community hall where Save the world Club rescues perfectly good food destined for landfill and stocks the fridges for a community of refugees. A robin singing determinedly over the sounds of the summer strimmers, short clips of people who lived and worked on the estate. Walks with Alison often include Lucy Furlong, who read her own and others poetry as we reached particular trees.

The depth of community, the history, the love for the place and its ecology was gently and humorously shared. Is it a ginnel, a jitty, a snicket, no – an entirely different name applies down here. The relationships between the estate, it’s surrounding area and the way it is used by travelling and resident species of birds and small mammals mirrors the relationships of the human populations who similarly are both resident and travelling through. The trees are magnificent. I learned a lot. Finishing off with a bat detector, listening to the social calls of the common pipistrelle and the soprano pipistrelle up by the cemetery gates offered another new landscape. It was time to go home before we froze.

Another reason for wanting to join the walk was that this place may not be here in the near future. A proposed total footprint development that would raze the entire estate to the ground to provide a new housing development, it would remove the habitats for protected species and destroy the biodiversity. It would raze at least 197 mature trees to the ground. Trees that are as familiar to those on the estate as are their neighbours. Trees that provide corridors, shelter and food for wildlife. In the face of a global climate and ecological emergency and a social housing crisis, there are a four practical points:

· This development will not address the housing crisis. Of the mass selloff of public lands that the government has undertaken since 2011, only 6% are available for social rent with up to 1 in 4 deemed affordable, reports Hanna Wheatley of the NEF. The plans for the CRE development are similarly aligned with the provision of social and affordable rents a key aim. It’s not immediately clear what the targets are for social and affordable housing.

  • This development will not deliver the Net Gain goals of government to leave biodiversity in a better state than before. There will be cumulative impacts of the development on insects, birds, bats and ultimately, biodiversity extinction.
  • Demolition -according to various widely available calculators-releases ten time the embodied carbon from the building compared to the amount released on refurbishment.
  • Giving a social perspective, eco-anxiety is now a ‘thing’ and the importance of contact with nature to our growth, health and well-being recognised. Loneliness is on the rise. A total footprint development means not only the wildlife and nature is removed, it means the connectivity between people, between neighbours across the estate goes too.
Lucy Furlong reading Keat's Ode to Autumn
If we took a regenerative design approach to the CRE development, where nature was put at the heart of every decision and our current crisis was fully recognised, what would happen? Interestingly, there are policies and strategies and goals in the councils framework that would take us a little way towards that, but they are simply not being regarded. It’s at this point that Margaret Heffernan’s concept of wilful blindness rushes sadly into view.

If you’ve made it this far well done the reward is the sound of Sparrows of Willingham Way


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