Happy Birthday Chinbrook Meadows

Happy Birthday Chinbrook Meadows

Since 29 October 2002 residents and visitors alike have enjoyed the restored River Quaggy and a rejuvenated park at Chinbrook Meadows. But it nearly did not happen. Thank goodness it did say Chair of QWAG, Paul de Zylva, and Chair of Friends of Chinbrook Meadows, Anne Slater.

Picture caption: Before and After: the mistreated River Quaggy stuck in concrete and hidden from view is revived to support nature, learning, play and help reduce flood risk

Ending the era of mistreating rivers

29 October is the anniversary of the first major restoration of the River Quaggy, in Chinbrook Meadows, Grove Park. When the park first opened in 1929 the river ran freely and naturally through the former grazing meadows of a diary farm.

Soon after, in 1935 the Quaggy (known locally as the Chin Brook) was put into straightened concrete channels and hidden behind hedges and metal fences. That was the start of an era of mistreating our rivers in the mistaken belief that hiding them in concrete devoid of much if any life, and even putting them below ground, would prevent flooding, which it didn’t.

Sparking a river renaissance

Reviving the river by breaking it out of 300 metres of concrete in 2002 sparked a river renaissance that has made the area a showcase of how to restore urban rivers properly.

South east London now boasts successful river restorations across the Ravensbourne Catchment most notably at Sutcliffe Park in Greenwich where, as at Chinbrook, restoring the Quaggy also catalysed the revival of that park which is now much better for nature and people.

Between these two successes a major stretch of the River Quaggy still cries out to be released from concrete to be allowed to play its full role in restoring nature and reducing flood risk. QWAG is planning what would be the last major restoration of the Quaggy.

Picture caption: Learning and playing safely in the restored River Quaggy.

The benefits of community action

River restoration works but, as the timeline below shows, it also takes time and persistence. QWAG first proposed restoration in its Operation Kingfisher plan in 1995. But when in 1999 Lewisham Council proposed other plans for the park QWAG’s vision almost fell at the first hurdle. Fortunately sense prevailed and the river restoration went ahead.

Soon after the river and park were reopened, a 2005 report into the contribution of the voluntary and community sector to economic and social outcomes in Lewisham noted:

  • How restoring the river and park had brought significant economic benefits to the area – £1.1 million raised, with 52.5% from sources outside the borough.
  • The social benefits that followed restoration – where a little used open space was transformed into a popular park, cherished and cared for by local people of all ages.

Picture caption: Bridge over the restored River Quaggy

The report also highlighted QWAG’s contribution saying:

  • QWAG’s actions and methods have brought wide benefits to the local community – the economic and social benefits of QWAG’s involvement with Chinbrook Meadows are particularly emphasised.
  • Its initiation of a natural flood alleviation scheme that avoids concrete channelling, has increased biodiversity and made aesthetic improvements to the area.
  • QWAG’s collaboration with the statutory sector is seen as a good example of ‘co-production theory’ – efficient results coming from local residents participating in producing public goods and services.
  • The group’s local knowledge and enthusiasm has meant that the river authority can work towards… integrated flood alleviation across boroughs.”

The report concluded:

Much of the success of QWAG results from the commitment and enthusiasm of individual volunteers and the manner in which they have established strategic relations with other organisations. The group’s success at meeting their own objectives in addition to assisting the local statutory sector agencies in meeting theirs is a positive reflection of their empowerment and therefore of how they have been involved in community development.

Valuing the Voluntary and Community Sector – Report from Mapping the Sector in Lewisham 2005, Lewisham Strategic Partnership

Restoration timeline

1995 Operation Kingfisher – QWAG advances the idea of restoring the River Quaggy in Chinbrook Meadows in its Operation Kingfisher proposal.

1999 Community backing – Lewisham Council proposes changes to the park which would make restoring the river impossible. QWAG secures a promise of support and a possible £250,000 from the Environment Agency, and then persuades the Council to consult local people, who give overwhelming backing to QWAG’s original Operation Kingfisher proposal.

2000 Partnership working – A partnership forms, including QWAG, to oversee the project to regenerate the entire park, including restoring the river, and to raise the funds needed.

2002 Job done – The works to break the Quaggy out of concrete and to allow it to flow naturally through the regenerated Chinbrook Meadows are completed.

Picture caption: Friends of Chinbrook Meadows display of the changes

Picture caption: ‘The Quaggy River is ‘liberated’ to meander through Chinbrook’ – Lewisham Mercury reports on the restoration, 30 October 2022

Picture caption: ‘Changing the Channel’ – the organisations in the partnership behind the restoration of the river and park, launch event ceremony, 22 October 2022

2003-04 Flying the green flag – Chinbrook Meadows is awarded Green Flag status – the national standard for parks – which it has retained in all subsequent years.

2004 Exemplary action – In 2004, Chinbrook Meadows is listed as one of 23 world-wide exemplary projects in Urban River Basin Enhancement Methods, a study funded by the European Commission.

2005 Good practice – The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) cite Chinbrook Meadows and the Quaggy’s restoration further downstream in Sutcliffe Park, as examples of good practice.

2005 Recognising community action – The restoration is also cited as an exemplary project in Lewisham’s Community Development Strategy, Valuing the Voluntary and Community Sector – Report from Mapping the Sector in Lewisham,

2006 Public appreciation – The restored river and park are a huge community asset much appreciated by local people according to Delivering Regeneration through Environmental Improvement, a University of West England report for the Environment Agency.

2007 Award winner – Chinbrook Meadows (and Sutcliffe Park) win the British Urban Regeneration Association’s Waterways Renaissance Awards’ Natural Environment category. Also see QWAG’s 2007 article five years on from the restoration.

Picture caption: End of a natural river: At the north end of the park, the natural river runs back into concrete before heading toward Marvels Lane.

Picture caption: Back in concrete – the River Quaggy heads north out of Chinbrook Meadows toward Marvels Lane and Sydenham Cottages nature reserve.

Picture caption: QWAG sign on the bridge near where the Quaggy enters Chinbrook Meadows from beneath the railway embankment.

Picture caption: The story so far: Public information signs in Chinbrook Meadows

Picture caption: The story so far: Public information signs in Chinbrook Meadows

Make a splash without getting wet!