The Golden Leaf of London (Golden Leaf) aims to rewild urban areas with “ribbons of vegetation that become unique living sculptures and walkable routes for locals and visitors”. The registered charity is the brainchild of Liz Marsh, owner of Elizabeth Marsh Floral Design in the Flower Market, who sees it as a modern living art project that will put a stake in the ground and commit to a more sustainable world for us and our children. Here, Liz tells us what lies behind the project, which will start in London, and how people in the Market community can get involved.
Liz conceived the Golden Leaf concept early in the Covid 19 lockdown, as she considered ways to heal the population’s lost connection with nature. Her vision of rewilding cities was inspired by the structure of a leaf, whereby smaller veins (streets) would connect the wild, natural and educational spaces to a central spine, all of which can be explored on foot or by bike. This exposure to the wild and natural aims to inspire people to embrace healthier living, encourage people to coexist with Nature and imagine a future where populations are thriving, and not deprived. Rather than focusing on simply surviving and regaining what we had before, she wanted to ensure we re-built back better and in harmony with nature.
London is the first city in what the Golden Leaf of London charity hopes will be a national and even global campaign. The A13 and A4 are the ‘central spine’ that runs straight through the heart of the capital. Initially, the Golden Leaf of London had envisioned transforming the pavement area alongside this artery to create a greener and vibrant cafe society. It would encourage physical activity, walking and cycling, and attract people to an urban oasis of greenery, cafes and markets alongside the road which is a necessity to connect the city. The result of this would be cleaner air, more attractive space and improved mental health.” says Liz. “Our aim is to transform the approach to urban design, of which there are many examples from around the world. It’s London’s time. We recognise that the only way to make this change is to get large numbers of influential people behind it and create momentum. From there we want to see the network spread; it has the potential to be a positive project for people at every level of society.”
“There is very little wild space left in urban areas of the UK as we pave over more of it all the time. It doesn’t happen in reverse,” she adds. “Only those who escape to the countryside or live near a major park are assured of experiencing nature as part of their daily lives. “The south of England is becoming one long urban asphalt and concrete corridor. Since the start of the Covid 19 lockdown there have been more than 6,000 new houses built within a five-mile radius of where my father lives in Hampshire. It’s not countryside any more, it’s suburbia, and we need to ensure these areas are being developed while respecting what nature provides for us by intertwining this in at the planning stage. The UK is in a housing crisis and we understand the need to build more affordable homes. If we are starting fresh in some parts of the country we can adapt best practices from the brightest minds in the UK and the world. In central London, it’s more dense. It feels like every time I blink a new block of flats are goes up, squeezing even more in small spaces. It’s not enough to put a plant in the middle of a street canyon and say we are creating enough green spaces.”
Growth journey planner
The charity has just produced the first iteration of the Golden Leaf Growth Journey Planner, which illustrates how to become a Golden Leaf Street. “We want to be a celebratory charity that engages and celebrates resident’s willingness to learn and transform their own street and neighbourhood.” explains Liz. “We want them to embark on their own plans, knowing that they will be led by us to help them make a difference. None of us start anything as an experts, and there are many opportunities to learn what can be done no matter where you start. It’s important they feel the pride of what they have accomplished and are recognised for the impact they are having on their community. If you’ve got a flowerpot on your windowsill, for example, well that’s a start, but just imagine if you had three of them and everyone on the street had three flowerpots on their windowsills. We want to create a vision of what streets could look like if everyone played their part.”
The Golden Leaf initiative needs the support of local councils, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Transport for London (TfL). The goal is to elevate the conversation and realise the possibilities that can be achieved and a shared vision. “There is real value to this project and people love the idea.” says Liz. “By aligning humanistic values with current realities we will tap into our creativity to solve real problems and remove perceived barriers that block us. What we’re doing ties in well with the work of other organisations such as, Street Trees, which is encouraging people to water the plants and trees outside their buildings. If every community did that, whole areas would be flourishing within a few years.”
A summit was held in June to roll out a link with Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS). “LNRS was created by the government and launched by Natural England. It represents a chance for local communities to say what they would like to see and how they would like to live in our urban environments,” says Liz. “We want to ensure that the message goes out to as many people as possible – corporate organisations, science institutions, charities and our communities. This is a UK wide initiative and the GLA is taking a key role here in London. LNRS’s success depends on all stakeholders coming together, an eclectic group of people with a variety of expertise. This is one of the greatest strengths of Golden Leaf.”
The charity has four trustees, Liz as Chair and Founder, Lenka Moore, who is responsible for Community and Engagement, Sandeep Sesodia, Treasurer, and Fiona Marsh, who overseas Partnerships and Programmes.
“We also have five strategic imperatives,” says Liz. “These are Growth and Governance, Partnerships and Programs, Community and Engagement, Design and Technology, and Delivery & Support. Each team is supported by a team leaders. With such a large and encompassing mission and no salaried employees yet we have divided the work across these specialities to drive the project forward.
“We’re actively looking for trustees and people to lead and join our teams. We are currently seeking a Team Leader for the Community and Engagement team,” she adds, so get in touch! “No-one gets paid although all are reaping the benefits and fulfilment by driving forward a real chance to help save Nature.
What can you do?
Any organisation or individual who is interested in donating financially, in kind, or volunteering their time and skill are encouraged to contact Liz. “There are other ways to get involved too,” Liz says. “We want people to talk about it to spread the word in as many different ways as they can. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
“At the heart of what we’re doing lies healing our connection with nature and helping communities to thrive sustainably. Organisations, their employees, customers and all stakeholders are waking up to the fact that sustainability for our mind, bodies and planet will ensure the human race will survive if we adapt the way we live now. We have created the Golden Leaf at a time when awareness of sustainability our mental health and connection to nature can benefit us and future generations of all living things.
“I’ve just started bringing dahlias in from a grower in Guildford, which we’ll be selling through R French & Sons in the Market,” she adds. “We’ve seen the sale of domestically grown flowers drop off dramatically in the Market, often due to logistical challenges. Elizabeth Marsh Floral Design will be giving grower Withypitts a route back into the Market, where they sold large volumes of flowers for many years. A lot of this is about having the will to collaborate, which we all struggle with at times, but if we work together, the gains will far outweigh the potential losses.
“One of the huge strengths of the Market is our community and that reflects Golden Leaf’s values. I’d love to see us create a Golden Leaf corridor in the Market, with products sourced from the Market, to illustrate what can be done. Why can’t the walls of units be covered in creepers, to create a habitat for insects and birds, help nature and look nicer? I’m not asking people to do difficult things, just to have a different mindset.
“As florists, if there’s no nature, then we’re out of a job, so we have vested interested in this being successful,” Liz admits.
The objectives have far more altruistic roots than that, however. “Droughts are prevented by maintaining a green canopy and there are lots of ways we can mitigate climate change by increasing the amount of vegetation in our urban communities,” says Liz. “It is up to those who live off the land to support that land before it’s too late.”
If you would like to donate, learn more or contact Liz Marsh go to Goldenleafoflondon.org