Half a century ago, an eight-year-old called Julie Cavanagh squealed with delight as she clambered over the equipment at the newly opened Sands End adventure playground.
Now she runs the place, and her hard work organising activities for young and old through SEAPIA (Sands End Associated Projects in Action) has made her a worthy winner of the ‘Community Organiser Award’ in this year’s Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Honours.
“My grandparents lived in Sands End, and I would come and stay with them on weekends and during the holidays… just at the time the adventure playground started,” she said.
Julie, who now lives around the corner in Elbe Street, still keeps up with many of the friends she made, sharing adventures in the playground in the late 60s and 1970s.
She’s proved herself to be a queen of fundraising, leading campaigns via the crowdfunding website H&F Hive to collect more than £56,000 to pay for a community kitchen - where professional chefs provide regular meals for senior citizens, and a ‘social shack’; a mini youth club where young people can make friends and be themselves. H&F Council contributed £10,000 towards the new kitchen.
With after school clubs and holiday programmes for disadvantaged youngsters, community gardens to encourage veg-growing and children’s cookery classes, she has built SEAPIA into a successful and hugely valued service.
The heart of Sands End
But at its heart is the adventure playground in one corner of Fulham’s William Parnell Park where Julie’s nephews and nieces now enjoy the safe, supportive outdoor centre.
“It’s certainly changed from those early days of corrugated iron sheeting and bonfires which children threw fireworks into,” laughed Julie, recalling - with a little shudder - an era before risk assessment and safety programmes.
It all began because many families in the area lived in small flats and had nowhere to get together or play.
Today’s youngsters play a part in fundraising for new projects, with the ‘social shack’ being an excellent example. Children have set up cake sales to help fund the building - a £38,000 replacement for a ramshackle cabin which once stood on the site. H&F Council contributed £10,000 towards the social shack.
But there’s a real inter-generational side to SEAPIA which doesn’t exist at many other projects.
Last year SEAPIA funded and equipped a new community kitchen, raising more than £18,000 through H&F Hive, the crowdfunding service started by H&F Council to enable local organisations and residents to raise money for community projects.
It is used to prepare meals for local senior citizens - especially those in sheltered accommodation, but also serves as a kitchen where children can learn about healthy food, and others can cook up ideas to bring the neighbourhood together.
Cllr Ben Coleman, H&F Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care who attended the opening of the crowdfunded kitchen, said of Julie’s recent Civic Honour: “This is richly deserved. Julie does so much to bring together young and old in Sands End, and she is an inspiration to other communities in the borough.”
For Julie herself, the motivation is seeing generations enjoying each other’s company… breaking down the barriers that sometimes exist between young and old.
“Among the activities we’ve been doing is getting young people to do portraits of the older people in the area - pictures that they can then take home,” she said. “We’ve been doing memory-making sessions, and Mary - a local 90-year-old - has been running a knitting club, passing on the sewing and knitting skills that don’t get taught to young people these days.”
The result is that younger folk have a much better understanding of senior citizens, waving to them on the way home from school and countering the isolation and loneliness that can sometimes accompany old age, while older residents feel less wary of chatting to children.
Julie’s husband, Dave, also helps out - putting in stints as a DJ during fundraising events.
“I love working here, I feel I’m giving something back,” said Julie. “I have a deep, deep passion for it. There sometimes feels like there’s a big social divide in Sands End, but with projects like this, everything gels. It’s the glue that binds the community together.”
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