What do you do to help build a more sustainable, greener environment? A Spotlight On: Norwood Collective and the south London #LocalGreenHeroes

What do you do to help make the community greener? Recycle packaging and food scraps, use a compost or even a wormery?  You may carry a reusable coffee cup, or offer those that do money off a cuppa? We’d love to know.

It is always good to see individuals and local businesses moving towards a more sustainable future. Even Waitrose recently announced it was scrapping their disposable coffee cups in a bid to save 52 million cups a year – what with over 2.5 billion cups thrown away and a large amount non-recyclable due to the plastic lining (BBC).

We spoke to Esther Rees of Norwood Collective, an online campaign developed to celebrate the south London community and the environment through a series of features and interviews called #LocalGreenHeroes.  We put the Spotlight On Esther to find out more about her thinking behind the Collective, what inspires her and what being a Street Champion in her local community really involves.

Esther Rees, Norwood Collective

Tell us a bit more about Norwood Collective?

Norwood Collective is a celebration of local communities and the environment in south London.  It started as a way of sharing information about various greening projects going on in and around West Norwood where I live but has now expanded to include any sort of community-led initiatives, local and national environment news and exciting events in and around south London.

The focus of Norwood Collective is still on the environment as that’s my background. I work for the Environment Agency and I studied agricultural science at university. I started Norwood Collective as part of a course I was studying with Digital Mums in social media management.  Part of the assessment was to run a community campaign so I took the opportunity to write about the amazing community I live in. I’ve finished the course now but I’ve decided to keep Norwood Collective going because it’s been well received and there’s still so much more to shout about!

What are your thoughts on the South East London community?

I love the community in South East London. I grew up in East London and although I loved it there, I was amazed by the sense of community in West Norwood when I first moved here.  There is so much going on and so much of it is community-led.

We have community pocket gardens springing up on previously unloved patches of green space, book exchange boxes, street parties and on a larger scale, West Norwood Feast, a monthly street festival run by volunteers.  What makes our community great is that it is diverse, which means the community has great character and it’s inclusive.  It’s also dynamic, people around here have a real sense of ‘let’s roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves’.  I think, once you have community ownership of a project, that project will tend to be successful because people feel engaged in it and want it to succeed.

How did you get to where you are today?

I couldn’t have made Norwood Collective successful without the support I’ve had from my local community; the  local individuals, businesses and community groups who agreed to be interviewed for my #LocalGreenHeroes campaign (Jason Prentis from Veolia, the Tritton Vale Pocket Garden team, Otter Trading, Pop West Norwood, Tim Bellenger from Friends of West Norwood Station, Cosmo form Roots and Cycles, and Alys Penfold from Library of Things), Digital Mums who run the social media management course which was the impetus for this campaign, and the wonderful women in  my course cohort, all of whom are running amazing community campaigns themselves. 

What are your plans for the future?

I’m now a qualified Social Media Manager so it would be great to take on some clients as well as keep running Norwood Collective. I’m really passionate about preserving the green spaces we have in London, and urban areas generally so I’d like to see where I can take Norwood Collective to help pursue this passion. I really enjoyed running the #LocalGreenHeroes series so I’m planning another one soon. There are so many amazing people and projects out there who are doing great work to help improve the environment and the lives of people around them. They’re not doing this for others to notice them; they’re doing it to make the world a little bit better.  And I think that’s a big deal. 

What inspires you?

What inspires me is seeing how little gestures can make such a huge impact.  Shortly after moving to West Norwood I became a Street Champion, which means I get support from my local council and Veolia to help improve my street by building planters, reporting fly-tipping and doing litter picks.  To drum up support from my neighbours I had to knock on their doors, put up posters and reach out to as many of them as possible to get them involved.  This was a real game-changer for the street; suddenly I knew the names of the people I walked past most mornings and evenings, we swapped stories about the really loud house party last month and the changes the road and immediate area had seen in the last ten years. Suddenly our street felt more like a village which was awesome.

What do you think has been a seminal life experience that has shaped who you are?

I think growing up in London, in a densely populated urban environment, gives you a thirst for green space.  My Mum grew up on a farm and my Dad grew up on the coast in Wales.  They taught me to appreciate the green stuff around us; from the weeds poking out of the cracks in the concrete to the grass verges, gardens and local parks in our neighbourhood.  They helped me to identify plants, trees and local wildlife and nurture – whatever I had around me; be that a pot plant in my student digs, a herb garden on the window-sill of my first flat to the little garden full of flowers and edible plants I have now.  All this has made me want to preserve the green spaces we have in London.  I’m passionate about the projects around me in southeast London and the wider #NationalParkCity movement happening across the city.  Green space has huge physical and mental health benefits, as well as benefiting local wildlife. It’s really worth fighting for. 

Where’s your favourite spot on SE London?

It’s so hard to choose a favourite!  I love West Norwood, especially on a Feast day – the buzz you get from the local community is infectious.  I love Herne Hill, taking my two young girls to Brockwell Park and visiting the market on Sundays.  Crystal Palace is brilliant, the amazing stuff done by the people behind Crystal Palace Transition Town and especially the Crystal Palace Food Market.  I think my absolute favourite has to be Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods.  It’s part of the largest remaining tract of the Great North Woods and is the oldest nature reserve of the London Wildlife Trust.  My two girls love it and our favourite bit to head to is the old rail tunnel which is now a registered bat reserve.  There’s an awesome mural painted on it by Louis Masai.  It’s well worth a visit! 

We hope to bring you more #LocalGreenheroes features from Esther and other sustainable news in the coming months so watch this space.


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