If you peered through the windows of the former Giovanni Rana Italian restaurant in Regent’s Place during the first weeks of this year, you’d have been forgiven for wondering quite how the starched tablecloths and bowls of pasta had made way for a bell tent, a milk float and the occasional gaggle of lively local schoolchildren perched atop bales of hay.
This unusual scenario was in fact The Urban Campsite, a joyous temporary reinvention of a rather sterile box of a space, courtesy of educational charity Global Generation (founders of transportable urban allotment The Skip Garden, based just up the road in King’s Cross) working with Head of Campus at Regent’s Place, Juliette Morgan.
Schools and other community groups came in for special workshops, including storytelling around the hay bale circle, a youth leadership programme, and for kitting out a 1950s Leyland milk float as another mobile-garden-cum-kitchen-on-wheels.
The Campsite project forms part of a wider series of tasty local collaborations aiming to stimulate young minds by bringing the natural world back into previously inaccessible city spaces.
Global Generation’s Jane Riddiford explains how such a creative use of this space came about: “In any ecosystem, the most fertile and biodiverse area is the edge, whether that be the water’s edge, or the edge of a forest,” she says, poetically. “For many years now I’ve been drawn to the ‘edgelands’ in the middle of a city; the often out-of-bounds spaces inside developers’ zones. Rather than using Regent’s Place main piazza, we needed to find the less manicured spaces, the cracks and crevices in which to begin our work, just like nature does.”
And so it came to be that a tent went up inside a former restaurant. The milk float will now serve to animate an ongoing link between Regent’s Place and Global Generation’s next – and most ambitious – project to date.In March, work began on The Story Garden, a temporary green space in association with developer Stanhope and the British Library, to bring a growing, cooking and community-building space to a one-acre section of the empty lot found right behind the library.
When it opens in May, there will be planters, kitchens, an orchard and facilities for the library to run projects specially aimed at their neighbouring Somers Town residents.
“As with the creation of the Skip Garden, the Story Garden will be a garden of a thousand hands,” says Nicole Van den Eijnde, Director of Global Generation. “School children, young people, residents and Library employees will all be involved in the build and planting of the garden. We hope it will offer a safe and green space for people to enjoy, learn new skills and share experiences.”
So look out for a travelling milk float serving lunch, and crops springing up in the heart of Somers Town, as the area continues to become more green and pleasant right before our eyes. Tom Kihl
Main image: British Library PR