A pair of determined dog walkers took it upon themselves to make Spa Wood in Upper Norwood nicer for local people – and it worked, writes Tara O’Connor.
Debbie Paul and Chloe Stein use the woods to walk their dogs in daily, but became fed up with it being unkempt and full of rubbish.
Two years ago they decided to do something about it.
They set up Friends of Spa Woods and now have an army of volunteers who collect rubbish and preserve the nature in the historic wood.
It is part of a 15-acre site known as The Lawns which also includes a games court and playground and is owned by Croydon council.
The Friends group works with the council and the London Wildlife Trust.
Spa Wood was once part of the Great North Wood which stretched for miles from Croydon to Camberwell.
Now remnants of it remain in the form of smaller woods across South London. Chairwoman of the group, Chloe, said: “We started it because of the amount of rubbish.
Now it has been cleared it feels safer and there has been an increase in people using it.
“A lot of people round here haven’t got outdoor space.
“It was always quite popular with dog walkers but people were scared to walk through it, it wasn’t a safe feeling.
“But now it is more open, it feels safe and it is used by more families.
Treasurer Debbie said the group is made up of volunteers and has been applying for grants since it started.
This month it was successful and was awarded £2,000 from Postcode Local Trust.
With the money the group is planning to create a magical nature trail through the woods.
It will include wood sculptures as well as fairy doors which will be made by Chloe, who is an artist.
And part of the trail will be a memorial to Frankie Howley-Mummery thanks to a donation from her partner Claire and their children Jack and Mae.
She was deputy headteacher at Priory School for children with special needs – which backs onto another part of the Great North Wood.
She died in 2015, aged 67, after a two-year battle with cancer.
When their children were young the family used to play in Spa Wood pretending it was full of fairy houses.
Her son Jack, 24, said: “She lived round this area for 30 plus years and myself and my sister spent a lot of time round The Lawns when we were kids so there are a lot of fond memories.
“We heard about the plans for the woods and thought it would be a nice way to remember her.
“It is one of the few places that is woodland compared to parks, when I was growing up I remember it being full of brambles and nettles now it has become much clearer but is still a natural area of woodland.
“We want everybody to enjoy the space as we did as kids because it was such a big part of us as a family.”
Before the summer holidays the Friends of Spa Woods had a helping hand from 90 children from Downsview Primary School in Biggin Way.
The pupils came in three groups and planted 30 hazel and lime trees in an area which had been cleared of indigenous trees.
The Friends will unveil the new nature trail at an event on Saturday, September 7.
Spa Wood will also host the annual Festival of the Great North Wood from 11am-4pm.
There will be guided walks archery, bug hunting, storytelling and traditional wood-turning as well as stalls and refreshments.
The Lawns or Spa Wood is located on Spa Hill.