A new, caring project to reclaim a ‘lost' corner of Ipswich
On Friday 3 February BBC 2 screened the latest edition of Monty Don's series Big dreams small spaces. It featured a remarkable project being led by father and daughter team of Rob and Jo Brooks, who have already established the Eden Rose Coppice retreat in Quay Lane, Sudbury. The unpromising, if not impossible, (in Monty Don's view) site of the new venture in Ipswich is on the wooded area of The Potteries clay-pit for the brick and tile works which appears on maps as early as 1674: hence the name. The ‘cliff' rising behind Suffolk New College up to Alexandra Park is a much neglected and abused tract of land which the pair and a host of volunteers are bringing back into productive life.
Choked with ivy, thickets and human detritus, the steep woodland site required steps and walkways to enable access. It now has terraced growing areas, an area with tiered seating, wildlife-friendly features, children's seating and activity areas, environmentally-friendly compostable toilet with disabled access and much potential for further development. The project received a huge boost in July 2016 when it attracted the top award of £150,000 transformation money as part of the Building Better Communities competition sponsored by Jewson.
But there is more to this than making a woodland and productive terraced allotment. Rob Brooks, a cancer survivor, points to medical evidence showing that many of the most effective settings for recovering from fatigue or illness involve the natural environment. Such restorative environments are in short supply in many urban areas. He was inspired to create the Eden-Rose retreat in Sudbury and this is being used as a blueprint for the Ipswich site.
Rob and Jo are enthusiastic to make links not only with volunteers, but also groups and individuals who can also take benefit in a variety of ways from the sanctuary provided by the changing surroundings. Local school children, known as ‘Hoglets', come to learn about nature and the environment. As soon as basic work had started on Brickmakers Wood and standing water had been reintroduced, frogs, stag beetles, butterflies, foxes and other wildlife were spotted behind the curving huts which form a perimeter along part of the lower slopes. There are even elm trees hidden in the wood amongst the dominant sycamores.
The therapeutic potential of the project means that Brickmakers Wood can involve people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, youngsters from Pupil Referral Units and many others who find purpose and pleasure in planting and picking vegetables, helping with paths, seats and other creative structures which make Brickmakers Wood a unique place in the town and wider region.
Incidentally, those large Nissen huts are understood to have housed barrage-balloon maintenance vehicles during the war. For many years they were home to the county's mobile libraries. Now they have the potential to be a covered area for workers and visitors, but at the moment there are no services on site. Despite water flooding the site last year, a vandal breaking in and destroying some of the work and other set-backs, there is such a ground-swell of goodwill and enthusiasm here that this project is bound to succeed.
So much achieved and so much to be done; a testament to the drive and vision of two people to whom the town should be very grateful. Needless to say, the project would love to hear from potential supporters and volunteers (https://www.facebook.com/BrickmakersWoodPage/).