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Gillespie Park anniversary fun day: 500 join celebrations to mark nature reserve’s 20th birthday

PUBLISHED: 14:03 24 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:04 26 May 2016

Idris Cartright, four and Samuel Hill, four, take part in some pond-dipping at the event

Idris Cartright, four and Samuel Hill, four, take part in some pond-dipping at the event

Archant

It was all smiles at Gillespie Park on Sunday as more than 500 people joined the great and the good of Islington politics to celebrate its 20th year as a nature reserve.

MP Jeremy Corbyn, Cllr Kat Fletcher and Leader of the Council Richard Watts pose under a specially decorated treeMP Jeremy Corbyn, Cllr Kat Fletcher and Leader of the Council Richard Watts pose under a specially decorated tree

But it was a very different story three decades ago, when the park – now an oasis – was at risk of being turned into flats and Jeremy Corbyn took the fight to save it all the way to Parliament.

Activities on Sunday ranged from live music to pond-dipping, with a penalty shoot-out led by the Arsenal foundation and bee and butterfly crafts run by the Octopus Wildspaces Project meaning there was something for everyone.

Freya Sunderland, 1, picks daisies at the eventFreya Sunderland, 1, picks daisies at the event

There were speeches from the Friends of Gillespie Park, MP Mr Corbyn, council leader Cllr Richard Watts and new mayor Cllr Kat Fletcher. All told of their pride at how the area has developed since being designated a park in the mid-’80s its eventual designation as a nature reserve in 1996.

Speaking about his experiences in the original campaign to save the park from being turned into housing, Mr Corbyn told how he had to march cuttings of a rare grass from the park into Parliament just to have his voice heard.

Some of the children search for wildlife in the water belowSome of the children search for wildlife in the water below

Sally Oldfield, nature conservation manager at the Islington Ecology Centre, said she was “really pleased” with how the event ran.

“I think local nature reserves in general are very important, especially in somewhere like Islington, because it’s a very urban place,” she said

Mayor of Islington Cllr Kat Fletcher with Shania Martin, 10, and Mariah Foot-Wynter, 10 (Picture: Ken Mears)Mayor of Islington Cllr Kat Fletcher with Shania Martin, 10, and Mariah Foot-Wynter, 10 (Picture: Ken Mears)

“It’s great that people can come to a place like this that isn’t just swings and a slide.

“It’s different, it’s natural – it’s a place where wildlife can thrive.”

Sofie Doyle-Ali, three, who found a newt at the Gillespie Park birthday celebrations (Picture: Ken Mears)Sofie Doyle-Ali, three, who found a newt at the Gillespie Park birthday celebrations (Picture: Ken Mears)

She added: “It’s a hidden gem, a little oasis in the heart of Islington.”

Originally given to the council on a temporary basis, the park was due to be sold for housing before a campaign by residents and councillors saw it designated Islington’s first nature reserve in 1996.

Midori McKenzie, three, and Addie Kebar, three, at the celebrations (Picture: Ken Mears)Midori McKenzie, three, and Addie Kebar, three, at the celebrations (Picture: Ken Mears)

And Ms Oldfield feels sites like this are vital for the borough, which has less green space per head of the population than anywhere else in the UK.

“Sunday was all about recognising the value to the community and the history of the site,” she said.

Kiah McKenzie, three, and Ottilie Alcock, four, enjoy the peace at Gillespie Park (Picture: Ken Mears)Kiah McKenzie, three, and Ottilie Alcock, four, enjoy the peace at Gillespie Park (Picture: Ken Mears)

“It’s a very calm, peaceful, beautiful place to be, and that’s important in a community like this.”

To see our two-page picture special, pick up the Islington Gazette from May 26


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