Southwark Peace Garden is fighting back against knife crime in London

An urban garden with curved white walls and trellis up each sideJust behind a busy road in Southwark, South London, lies a peaceful oasis full of beautiful plants and flowers. Considering the borough of Southwark has one of the highest knife crime rates in London, averaging two serious incidents a day involving knives, it may seem unlikely to find such a place here. But that’s exactly why it is here.

A project led by young people in the area identified three main factors of knife crime: a disconnect from parents, lack of ambition/awareness, and environment. Based on these findings, the students, along with the local community, designed and built a garden that aims to be part of the solution. Their aim? To create social connections, educate people on the subject of knife crime, and provide a reflective environment where people can think about their own lifestyle and decisions.

Nestled inside the once bare concrete yard of the Walworth Methodist Church, the garden has been created to bring together people affected by knife crime, for reflection, relief and resolution. Grow Wild caught up with Josh Welch, Malachy Safsaf and Patrick Qudus, three architecture students from Ravensbourne University, who designed the garden, to find out more.

From left to right: Josh, Malachy and Patrick

“To tackle knife crime wherever it’s happening, not just here in Southwark, but in other parts of London and the world too, we need to realise and understand why it’s actually happening and we need support in solving those problems,” Patrick says.

“Everyone needs to do their part. There’s not just one solution, there’s so many elements to it, everyone needs to own up and look at themselves and how they can take responsibility.” Malachy says.

“Responsibility is the key, because if every wants to push it onto someone else or say it’s not their problem then it won’t be fixed. Everyone needs to look at themselves and say ‘what have I done that has influenced it and made the situation worse, or what haven't I done?’ Everyone needs to think about the implications of their own actions.” adds Malachy.

“In reality the garden is not going to solve knife crime, but it’s a step in the right direction. If we keep making steps, and keep knife crime as a hot topic, rather than letting it dissipate and forgetting about it, I think we can get closer to solving the issue of knife crime in Southwark and even in London.” Josh says.

Patrick turns away from the group looking at the garden, before saying “This garden is important because it creates that intimacy for young people to talk and learn more about what the world has to offer them. It might be small scale, but it does serve a purpose.” At 22, Patrick is the eldest of the group and was personally involved in knife crime five years ago.

“It was quite a serious situation, I almost died,” he says, “That definitely changed my perspective on life and set me on the right path in terms of knowing what I want in life. I’ve made a positive thing out of something negative, because I realised I didn’t want to die. I wanted more in life. I just wanted to live my dream, so I started pursuing what I wanted.”

As he looks at the garden, it’s clear he’s proud of how far he’s come.

“My girlfriend came to the site during the construction and she saw what I’ve designed. It was my proudest moment, being able to share something that I care about with someone I care about. The excitement on her face put a smile on my face and made me feel like I’m doing something right again. That gives me the motivation to continue doing what I’m doing, not for the sake of it, but for the actual love of doing it.”

The garden has already succeeded in bringing people together, with multi-cultural, multi-faith volunteers from across the community, all chipping in together to bring it to life and get it finished for the grand opening, which took place on the International Day of Peace earlier this month.

“To be able to have an impact on the community at such a young age is quite powerful, especially as there were so many young people involved. It was really an amazing thing.” Josh says.

“Yeah, I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to design something and have it created at such an early point in our career,” Malachy says, “We’ve been able to explore different ways of designing, what works and what doesn’t work. None of us are gardeners, so it was really useful to be able to come to Kew and learn more about what types of plants and flowers would do well in the space.”

The final addition to the garden will be a sculpture known as the Orb, made from over 3 tonnes of blunted weapons, which were used in actual crimes and seized by police in just over a month. The sculpture has been designed and created by students at Camberwell College of Arts as well as local school children, residents, and Southwark Youth Council; under the guidance of London Sculpture Workshop.

Emma Lillingston, one of the designers of the Orb says, “In using actual weapons we wanted to take objects of hate and sadness and transform them into a lasting symbol of peace. The spherical shape of the Orb symbolises the world wide spread of knife crime and violence and ensures visitors to the garden can view the sculpture from all angles. The interlocking knives powerfully represent the unity of the people of Southwark fighting against violence and we hope the sculpture will act as a reminder of the scale of knife crime while encouraging peaceful reflection and remembrance.”

Before we leave the garden we ask the students if they have anything else they would like to share. The other boys look at Patrick, signalling him to offer the final words, “I hope the reason behind this garden doesn’t die out and we continue to remember what this garden means,” he says “It’s one thing designing something for the sake of it, but actually designing it for such an important topic for the community and for the world, is far greater. I hope that it stays in remembrance of the actual purpose of the design - a place for people to reflect on their part in all of this and what they want to do about it.”

Grow Wild is a proud funder and supporter of Southwark Peace Garden. To find out more and how you can get involved visit: https://www.southwarkpeacegarden.com/

Photo credit: Laura Lewis