THE STORY OF THE FURZEDOWN OAK – TRULY A COMMUNITY VENTURE
Written by Debbie Morey, with input from Candida Jones 24/2/16
Sometime in November 2012, Candida Jones was walking her children to school and noticed that a sign had been affixed to a tree on Furzedown Rec bowling green stating that the tree had a root fungus and would need to come down.
It was such a beautiful tree, perhaps the loveliest of all the trees on the Rec, that Candida called the Council and pleaded for it to be saved. When the Council explained why that wasn’t possible, she decided to save the tree some other way by ensuring it stayed in the community.
At first the Council was not receptive, but eventually, it agreed to allow Candida to keep the tree to be retained on certain conditions – that she could store it and transport it herself at no cost to the Council.
Candida does what all Furzedowners in need do and got on to the Furzedown Community Network yahoo chat group and pleaded for someone to come forward with some space to store the logs. Rev Sue Clarke stepped forward and suggested the ground of St Paul’s Church grounds.
After a little conversation, the contractors employed by Wandsworth offered to move the logs for free. So, having secured a small lorry and crane to move it and somewhere to store it, Candida secured the Council’s promise that it would not shred the tree once it was felled but let the community keep it instead.
The day when the tree was due to be felled – and saved – eventually came. Thanks again to the FCN yahoo chat group, Candida had been able to let other people in the community know that the tree was coming down that day and the plans to save it.
By extreme good luck, Dominique Grantham was passing the tree as it was being felled. She’d read the posting about the tree and so began to worry when the tree surgeons confirmed to her that the tree was going to be shredded. She raised the alarm and between Dominique and Candida the message finally got through that the oak belonged to Furzedown and the tree surgeons left empty-handed but for branches.
The oak was finally Furzedown’s!
The logs remained in a heap at the church until later that year.
A community arts group was formed with Candida (now an aspiring Labour Councillor), Dominique (a local artist), Rev Sue Clarke (the vicar of St Paul’s), Harriet (a local artist), Fio Adamson (a local artist and founder of Sprout in Moyser Road) and Gwyn Jones, (a local landscape gardener with Gardens by Design).
Between them they came up with the idea of a sculpture trail made from the pieces of oak and placed around the community.
The journey’s been slow. Transporting each log is difficult and securing grants for artists is nigh on impossible.
But work has finished on the first sculpture – at Eardley School – thanks to Dominique and Harriet and lots of workshops involving the children – and there are pieces currently being worked on or awaiting work at the Community Garden, Furzedown School, St Paul’s, St James’s, St Alban’s, outside Sprout, and at Oldfield House.
The crown – the most apparently showy and impressive piece -– still does not have a home., Wwell, it stands in St Paul’s grounds (you can see it from Chillerton Road). The Furzedown Oak would like it to take a prime position somewhere in the community.
Early in 2013, there was a management committee was set up with the above people voted in as members. It was decided to have an exhibition at Sprout to tell the community about this new project and to get some feedback.
Around September 2013 the first exhibition concerning the Furzedown Oak took place at Sprout, displaying each sculptor’s plan for their piece at the hosting organisation. A cross -section piece from the oak showing the its 70 growth rings had been saved. Gwyn and Fio made an installation with it and with photographs of certain events linked to the appropriate ring on the oak cross section by a series of threads and matching buttons, - e.g. you could see how old and wide the tree was in the year that the Beatles played at the Tooting Broadway Gala theatre. Gwyn also made clocks from the oak and they were sold at the exhibition.
Local artists Harriet Fredman, a friend of Dominique’s, and Ken McCalla also became involved in the Oak Project.
On 24 October, 2013 the Constitution for the Furzedown Oak Community Project was agreed with Fio Adamson as Chair, Candida Jones as Secretary and Debbie Morey as Treasurer. An account was opened at the Nationwide Building Society with these three officers as signatories to the account.
Artist Christopher Guest became involved in the Oak Project, eventually helping Fio with the St James’s Church piece and being allocated to the Oldfield House sculpture.
In November/December 2013, negotiations with various local organisations to host a piece of oak sculpture took place and the officers worked on the an application for the Oak Project to take part in the Wandsworth Arts Festival &and Fringe in May 2014 and be funded by Wandsworth Council.
Two local primary schools, three local churches, the Transition Town Tooting (TTT) Community Garden and a housing block all wanted to host an oak sculpture.
This funding application was successful and, the total award was £2360, with the initial instalment of £1416 being paid in March 2014, which meant as a result, we could now transport the oak pieces from St Paul’s Church grounds to the hosting organisations. And we could buy the tools needed to start sculpting:, chisels, and mallets and safety gloves, for both adults and children’s sizes too. We were nearing being able to sculpt the pieces in their resting places. So exciting!
Dominique and Harriet began work on the Eardley School sculpture.
Fio and Christopher began the planning of the St James’s Church sculpture with particular emphasis on World War One because of the WW1 memorial on the back wall of the church.
In May 2014, the Oak project held its second exhibition in Sprout with all the Oak artists, plus local recycling and upcycling artist Jeni Walker, running after-school and weekend workshops as part of the Wandsworth Arts Festival and Fringe. The workshops were well attended and the exhibition updating the community on the plans and progress of the oak sculptures was very well received.
Ken and Sue ran workshops at St Paul’s church during the Fringe to explain plans for the Memorial Garden and get ideas for planting and feedback on Ken’s plan for the bench and garden. These were very well attended and very popular. Many ideas were exchanged, including much gardening expertise, concerning the kind of planters and which plants would go best in the planters.
During the Fringe exhibition, artist Liz Watson became involved in the Oak Project.
The second instalment of £944 was paid in July 2014 so we were able to pay our six artists (Fio, Christopher, Ken, Dominique, Harriet, Jeni) for their part in the workshops.
In June 2014, the Oak continued its community presence with a stall at the Big Day Out, Furzedown Festival. Candida, Dominique and Harriet “womanned” the stall letting everyone know about the Oak project. Dominique and Harriet used their artistic skills to create wonderful designs on hundreds of children’s faces.
Rev Sue Clarke and Ken worked on the church’s application to the Big Lottery to have a memorial garden in the wasted space at the side of the church with planters and one of the oak pieces as a bench on a plinth for people to sit and meditate, reflect, be at peace. This bid was successful and they were awarded £4000. This space is to be a community space open to all, not just the church congregation. It is easily accessible from Welham Road, up the stone steps to the church door, and (half way up the path going left) stepping stones take your eye, (and hopefully your feet), round to the back of the church to this lovely space. Its Grand Opening is on 19 June 2016.
Work carried on slowly but surely. Before carving, the bark had to be stripped off the logs. Eardley School was generous with £500 towards the work of the sculpture which, thanks to Dominique and Harriet, became an extension of the school’s art class with many Year 5 and 6 children working on the piece.
Fio and Christopher held many workshops with the St James’s Church various groups concerning ideas for the sculpture. However, lack of ecclesiastical permission has delayed the work on this piece but a temporary sculpture has been agreed and plans continue with many workshops with all the church’s groups taking place.
Christopher began negotiations with the residents of Oldfield House the housing block on West Drive, and began work on the plans for their sculpture.
2015 saw more developments. with Dominique and Harriet finisheding the piece at Eardley School.
Sue got Princes Trust volunteers to make the stepping stones path and having the plinth for the oak bench to sit on constructed.
Liz began work on the piece at St Alban’s Church – an outstretched hand.
Fio, Debbie and Candida went in to Furzedown School and supervised Year 5 and 6 children stripping the bark off their oak, now standing in their playground, as part of their art classes.
Fio and Debbie attended the Community Garden open day with many people stripping the bark off the oak there and many people drawing designs on paper as to what they wanted the piece there to be like there. We gathered about 30 designs in total; of which later, two favourite designs were chosen by a group: most people wanted a bench to sit on, some wanted a totem pole, the bench idea won by a long way, and with, on one side, a bean pod design, on the other a mythical dragon-looking creature. The sculpting began at the Foodival in September near Tooting Broadway: the log was moved to outside the Foodival hall and Fio and Debbie started work with many interested onlookers who soon began carving themselves.
Earlier in the summer, Fio and Debbie and volunteer friends ran a stall at the Pied Piper/Lord Mayor’s storytelling show on Tooting Bec common with lots of children and parents making Pied Piper hats with an oak theme. Fio, Debbie, Dominique and Harriet and volunteer friends also staffed the stall at the Furzedown Festival Big Day Out, with lots of children and adults making Cheshire cat masks and fluffy ears, in line with the Alice in Wonderland theme of the Festival. The stall had its own Duchess and Cheshire cat (wire sculpture with furry features) sitting in an oak tree branch. Much fun was had.
Sprout decided to have a sculpture made by Ken out of one of the pieces, standing outside the gallery.
Moving to 2016: Ken succeeded in getting £1561 funding from Wandsworth Fringe to sculpt the Sprout piece and hold creative writing and art workshops in Sprout in May 2016 as part of the Fringe.
The Oak’s third exhibition is taking place in Sprout with quirky photographs of Furzedown displayed and for sale and displays of how the work on each sculpture is progressing. At St James’s Church workshops continue and at St Paul’s church Ken is finishing the bench and stencils of oak leaves adorn the fencing around the Memorial Garden, Eardley School sculpture is finished and looking resplendent with its Matisse-inspired animal and Oak logo cutouts painted bright red. The St Alban’s church hand sculpture is coming along, the bark is off and the carving has begun – see Liz’s photos and plans.
All Fio’s hard work has paid off at the TTT Community Garden at the back of 5 North Drive;, the piece looks amazing – a mythical dragon creature carved as originally drawn and on the other side a bean pod as originally drawn too, but not just good looking: – it has a practical purpose – it is a bench and will be comfortable to sit on. Fio has carved most of the bench but has inspired others to join her, opening the community garden so that people can go in and carve on Sunday mornings. Christopher now has more concrete plans drawn up and agreed for Oldfield House. Ken and Sprout are discussing designs for the outside sculpture.
Fio and Christopher continue to make connections with various other artists, and organisations such as Merton Voluntary Services. and Christopher has even branched out into European connections, including Alice Morey, an artist based in Berlin for the last 7 years.
The Oak AGM was held on 20 February 2016 at Sprout attended by 12 people. Fio Adamson was re-elected as Chair, Candida Jones stood down as Secretary and Geoff Greensmith was elected as Secretary. The Management Committee of the Furzedown Oak consists of 7 people including Rev Sue Clarke, Ken McCalla, Debbie Morey. It was decided to begin charging a nominal fee for membership of the Oak project for those who want to do something to support this amazing community venture. Please enquire if you wish to become a member.
The Oak Project also needs a publicity manager on a volunteer basis.
Note that the Furzedown Oak’s sister tree still grows on the Furzedown Rec, looking glorious in all weathers.
Long may it stand there!